The Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) is a network of humanitarian organizations working together to assist Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) to prepare for and respond to disaster. The PHT’s Area of Responsibility covers the following 14 PICTs: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Kiribati,
Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
The PHT consist of humanitarian organizations which have the technical expertise and operational resources to support disaster preparedness and response. It works with Pacific governments and partners to ensure that necessary arrangements and systems are in place to support nationally led disaster responses.
The PHT was endorsed as a coordination body by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) in February 2012.
PHT members include representatives of UN agencies, NGOs and the International Red Cross Movement (through the IFRC) and works through three main structures:
PHT Principals Group: consisting of heads of the respective humanitarian agencies forming the membership of the PHT. This forum is co-chaired by the UN Resident Coordinators (RCs) from the Multi-Country Offices Fiji, Samoa and Micronesia and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). The forum provides strategic direction for collective inter-agency humanitarian action.
Regional Inter-Cluster Coordination Group: In 2021, this platform consisted of nine regional clusters:
Food Security, Logistics, Health & Nutrition, Protection, Shelter, Water Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH),
Emergency Telecommunications, Education, and Early Recovery. It is chaired by OCHA. The group focuses on operational issues and provides support to national disaster preparedness and response systems.
Cluster Support Teams: each of the nine clusters – with designated lead agencies – assist their national counterparts in preparedness and response activities in the countries and territories covered by the PHT.
OCHA functions as the Secretariat for the PHT.
During disasters, the PHT provides support to governments (mainly National Disaster Management Offices) and relevant line ministries, humanitarian partners, and affected communities in delivering a timely, effective, needsbased and principled disaster response. During non-emergency situations, PHT members provide preparedness support to their national counterparts in the form of training, mentoring, provision of technical expertise and resource strengthening, in line with national priorities.
In 2021, the region was faced with several emergencies, such as Tropical Cyclones Yasa and Ana, Typhoon Surigae, King Tides in FSM, a minor volcanic eruption in Vanuatu, as well as political unrest in Solomon Islands. Besides TC Yasa and TC Ana – which made landfall in Fiji, the base of the majority of PHT members - no major partner deployments were undertaken in 2021.Pandemic-related travel restrictions made access to many PICTs nearly impossible but given the limited severity of natural disaster in 2021 and increased investments in national preparedness in recent years, national authorities and local partners managed effective responses to emergencies throughout the reporting period.
As concerns COVID-19, the PHT was engaged in preparedness and response activities, however, the majority of the work was guided and implemented by the WHO-led Joint Incident Management Team. The PHT had – for 2020 – its own PHT COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan for non-direct health-related activities till the end of 2020; the final report was issued in April 2021.
In 2021, discussions within the PHT also started on the establishment of an IOM-led Evacuation Centre Management and Displacement Cluster (ECMD); globally known as Camp Coordination Camp Management Cluster (CCCM). It was endorsed by the IASC Emergency Directors Group in February 2022 and thus, became officially part of the PHT coordination structure from then on.
2021 also saw the revitalization of the Pacific Regional Cash Working Group (PRCWG) which provides a platform for regional coordination and harmonization of approaches used by cash practitioners and national cash working groups in the Pacific. In accordance with international guidance, the PRCWG works as a cross-cutting body reporting to the PHT Principals.
The overall set-up of the UN system, too, experienced a modification through the creation of a third Multi-Country Office (Micronesia) in October 2021, covering FSM, RMI, Nauru, Kiribati and Palau. This meant that the MCO Fiji was reduced from ten to five countries (Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu). The MCO Samoa remained the same, covering Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau. For the PHT itself, this development had only limited consequences as the modus operandi stayed the same, except that there is an additional RC leading the PHT and co-chairing the PHT Principals forum.
The pandemic has posed substantial challenges to every cluster to carry out focused preparedness and timely emergency response work. Aside from support for responses to TCs Yasa and Ana in Fiji, as well as the COVID19 response, most activities were implemented by national governments with support from their local partners. Regional cluster support was largely limited to remote assistance and technical advice, as deployments were either not requested or not permitted due to travel/border measures.
The majority of regional clusters did not have dedicated cluster coordinators which made it difficult to allot the appropriate time to regional cluster coordination through regular discussions and information exchange with individual cluster member organizations as well as with operational national clusters.
In addition, some cluster-lead agencies did not have a permanent presence in all of the countries of the PHT’s AOR, limiting the scope of support that could be provided. The number of active and functional national clusters did not significantly increase during the reporting period. Collective coordination efforts were challenged by the inability to deploy to support national responses outside of Fiji. However, it has been encouraging to see the fruit of investments in national preparedness and response capacities during this time, with increased self-sufficiency of PICTs.
While noting the strength of nationally-led responses in the region, and the challenges of COVID-19, it is strongly recommended that more efforts must be made by all concerned – RCs, OCHA, cluster-lead agencies and partners – to advocate for adequate financial resources to maintain strong coordination capacities, to continue to strengthen national preparedness, to build resilience in the most disaster-prone countries, and to be able to respond timely and efficiently to emerging crises in the Pacific.