ADF personnel have helped get approximately 28 tonnes of urgent medical and food supplies to remote areas of Solomon Islands after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted the country’s inter-island supply chains.
CAPTION: A RAAF combat controller from No. 4 Squadron and Mr Rob Crowell (centre) from the Australian Medical Assistance Team help unload Australian Government critical aid supplies from a Solomon Airlines DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft at Auki airport, Solomon Islands. Story by Captain Peter March. Photo by Corporal Jarrod McAneney.
The Operation Lilia team is working closely with Solomon Islands Government agencies and the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) to get the supplies out to the provinces.
Army officer Captain Tahnee Farleigh-Hall says its quite a large task getting the humanitarian stores out to where they are needed.
“We’ve been working with a lot of different agencies to distribute the stores across the Solomon Islands,” Captain Farleigh-Hall said.
“There’s been quite a few challenges due to some of the isolated provinces – we can’t always reach them by traditional methods, so we’re using a combination of sea freight, air freight and road distribution.”
Two RAAF C-27J Spartan aircraft are also helping distribute the stores.
The assistance is part of a shift in focus for Operation Lilia, established at the request of the Solomon Islands Government to support the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to stabilise public unrest in November last year.
It’s an effort that Operation Lilia Task Group Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Frankel, said was testament to the ADF’s ability to remain flexible and adapt to extreme circumstances.
“The initial response to successfully help restore order after the November civil unrest shows that the ADF is able to rapidly respond to situations impacting the security of our Pacific family,” Lieutenant Colonel Frankel said.
“However, just recently, Defence has broadened its focus to also assist the whole-of-Australian Government response to the growing COVID-19 outbreak here.”
While continuing to assist police security operations, the task group was required to assume responsibility for the supply chain for humanitarian stores.
“This required us to operate the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) humanitarian stores warehouse and undertake an airlift operation to transport critical medical and humanitarian supplies to the provinces of Solomon Islands,” Lieutenant Colonel Frankel said.
“This was achieved through the hard work of our personnel and the arrival of the C-27J Spartans and RAAF Contingency Response Squadron.”
The whole-of-Australian Government response is being coordinated by DFAT, and the ADF contribution has been conducted collaboratively and tailored to the needs of the Solomon Islands Government.
Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands Dr Lachlan Strahan said Australia’s support was guided by the Solomon Islands Government’s priorities, with Australia partnering with the government, private sector and other stakeholders to respond to the evolving situation.
“Australia stands shoulder to shoulder with Solomon Islands to respond to COVID-19,” Dr Strahan said.
“We’ve been quick to respond to the current outbreak and our assistance is broad, going beyond providing supplies and equipment.”
Australia’s support includes technical medical assistance, logistical support, and capacity-building to ensure Australian assistance addresses immediate priorities, but can be applied to Solomon Island’s longer-term COVID-19 response.
“Australia and Solomon Islands have a longstanding and enduring partnership spanning more than just our health relationship,” Dr Strahan said.
“Solomon Islands is our neighbour, our partner and an important member of the Pacific family.
“We’re here to support our Pacific family and we’re here for the long haul.”