Vanuatu Daily Post, Port Vila. April 5, 2017
he Government of Vanuatu yesterday sent a formal submission to the Australia Senate Standing Committee overseeing Radio Australia, sending a message of strong opposition to the cutting of shortwave radio services to the Pacific.
In measured but pointed language, the letter from Prime Minister Charlot Salwai states that “removing shortwave service to Vanuatu could cost many, many lives in the likelihood of a major natural disaster” like cyclone Pam.
The submission goes on to underline the widely held perception that better communications are a key time- and money-saving feature of disaster preparedness and response.
Early warning in the days and hours before cyclone Pam made landfall in Vanuatu is considered by many to have contributed significantly to the surprisingly low death toll. Only 11 people died in a storm that directly affected nearly 190,000.
In the wake of the storm, however, Vanuatu’s national communications infrastructure was damaged, and in the days immediately following the storm, virtually the entire country outside of Port Vila was effectively without domestic communications.
Having shortwave services available and integrated into the disaster response might have done much to reduce the chaos and confusion experienced by many in the aftermath of the storm.
The submission cites numerous sources that people in remote and rural areas of Vanuatu relied on the shortwave service at this time.
“It could be reasonably stated,” Mr Salwai’s letter states, “that Australia’s shortwave service helps save Pacific lives and Australian tax dollars.”
DFAT’s own Office of Development Effectiveness has cited the need for Australia to be able to communicate its role effectively in post-disaster situations. The recommendation was one of several included in a report evaluating Australia’s response to cyclone Pam.
The government of Vanuatu emphasises that shortwave radio service is still an apt and viable option, the letter argues. “For us, it is not outdated technology at all. It is appropriate and ‘fit for purpose’….”
These statements echo widely held opinions in Vanuatu, but this is the first time the Government has weighed in on a formal basis.
The letter was submitted to the Australian Senate Committee reviewing the ABC’s decision to cut shortwave services, and a copy was sent to High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Jenny da Rin.