Vasiti Soko is the winner of the 2021 WIN DRR Leadership Award for Excellence in the field of disaster risk reduction. She is the first female Director of Fiji National Disaster Management Office (NDMO). Since she was appointed in 2019, Vasiti coordinated Fiji’s response to seven tropical cyclones and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Vasiti has worked to ensure effective inter-cluster coordination with a focus on resource mobilization, leadership, reporting, information sharing, and inclusion of vulnerable groups.
For Vasiti, taking the country’s lead role in disaster management in 2019, provided the opportunity to make a direct impact in communities across Fiji. “It meant that we could change the policies,” she says. “The NDMO can influence decision-makers about changing rules around disasters for the benefit of disaster-prone communities.”
As Director she introduced changes that included the introduction of sign language during press conferences, and engaging private sector partners in emergencies, as part of a plan to build an inclusive disaster response network.
“I believe that the Government should not have to work alone, our collaboration with civil society, and other stakeholders before, during and after emergencies will enable us to effectively assist disaster-affected communities,” says Vasiti.
Being at the helm of the NDMO has enabled Vasiti and her team to improve the level of preparedness across the country. One way they’ve done this is by making key messages on disasters more accessible “Making them accessible to people living with disabilities, and translating them into the vernacular languages has enabled us to clearly disseminate messages on building back better, food security and psychological support. This helps to ensure that no one is left behind.”
The Russian Federation-funded UN Development Programme in the Pacific's Disaster Resilience for Pacific Small Island Development States (RESPAC) project has also played an important role in assisting the Fijian government in a variety of ways.
One of these is the development of Fiji's Country Preparedness Package, which enables rapid and effective humanitarian response while also contributing to disaster risk reduction.