Responding to the Fiji Government’s call for strengthened support from the private sector and with support of the European Union (EU), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the Pacific Community (SPC) has facilitated an innovative partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture and Fiji’s telecommunications companies to use text messaging service to inform mobile phone users in affected areas. 

The text messaging system, which was piloted in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu after tropical cyclone Pam and in Tonga for disaster preparedness, will now be used in Fiji. It will allow key messages relating to safe water consumption and agriculture to be shared among the 150,000 numbers registered with Vodafone and Digicel in Tailevu, Nabouwalu, Yasawas, Taveuni, Lomaiviti, Korovou, Ba, Tavua, Rakiraki, Labasa and Savusavu.

With this partnership, Digicel and Vodafone have significantly reduced the costs for developing the platform and the distribution of the text messages. 

“We are very thankful to Vodafone and Digicel for initiating this and also to UNDP for facilitating this partnership and support to the Food Security Cluster”, said Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Uraia Waibuta.

“The Ministry of Agriculture, through this innovative survey, will be able to get quick feedback on available water supply, food rations, population count and other relevant baseline information.”

“The messages sent out by Vodafone and Digicel will complement the assessment efforts of the extension officers,” Waibuta added. “This text messaging platform will allow us to reach and receive feedback from affected communities much quicker,” he said.

Osnat Lubrani, UN Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, echoing the Fiji Government’s call for private sector support, reiterated that disaster response and recovery is everyone’s business: “this partnership addresses the information gap between Government departments and communities during times of disasters.”

“We are grateful that through UNDP projects ongoing on the ground, such as the DFAT funded Pacific Risk Resilience Programme (PRRP), we are leveraging strong partnership engagements to bridge the humanitarian-development divide towards building long term resilience.”

“UNDP, through the PRRP, is currently supporting the Ministry of Agriculture through its food security cluster, as well as other clusters,” Ms. Lubrani said.

The private sector as a profit driven entity often induces innovation. These innovative approaches during times of disasters can be beneficial for affected communities.

 “The European Union is committed to helping communities become resilient to disasters and this innovative use of the telecommunications networks means communities are better informed in real time which underlines why working with the private sector is critical to developing disaster resilience in the Pacific region,” said EU Ambassador to the Pacific, Mr. Andrew Jacobs.

Funding to ensure these messages reach every mobile phone across the country is also being provided by the European Union through the Pacific Community (SPC).

Pacific Community Director-General, Dr Colin Tukuitonga said, “supporting an innovative way to get messages to communities affected by cyclone Winston is critical and this support will hopefully help protect the livelihoods and health of the people of Fiji in this critical time.”

Digicel’s Regional Head of Mobile & Digital Advertising, Morika Hunter, said “mobile phones are a valuable tool to gather data directly and quickly from the people during times of disasters.” “Through the Digicel network, we are able to geo-target communities which will allow our partner’s the Ministry of Agriculture and UNDP to gather specific information relevant to them,” she said.

For Vodafone’s Chief Executive Officer Pradeep Lal, “these partnerships are critical to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people of Fiji and telecommunications is proven to be a critical resource in times of disaster.” “With 98% of our network fully restored after TC Winston, mobile phones provide an effective and efficient medium to disseminate as well as gather important information to support rehabilitation and food security initiatives.”

“For devastation of this magnitude, it will require real partnerships to ensure messages reach those that are most affected and as the largest telecommunications network in the country, Vodafone is happy to support the work of the Ministry of Agriculture,” Mr. Lal said.

While the full impact of this disaster is being assessed, UNDP and its partners stand ready to assist the Fiji Government with humanitarian and recovery efforts.