Cyclone disaster on Vanuatu: aid agencies send urgent help

20 March 2015

reuters

In ruins: above: Samuel stands with his father in the remains of their home in Port Vila

In ruins: above: Samuel stands with his father in the remains of their home in Port Vila

AID agencies are rushing to deliver humanitarian relief to the Pacific islands of Vanuatu, which were devastated by Cyclone Pam over the weekend.

The Category-5 storm hit the collection of small islands, some of the poorest countries in the world, at wind speeds of up to 180 mph. At least 11 people are known to have died, and the death toll is expected to rise.

Aid had started to arrive at some of the larger islands in Vanuatu by Wednesday, but conditions on the smaller islands were unknown. A coalition of faith-based NGOs, the ACT Alliance, said on Wednesday that as many as 200,000 people - 80 per cent of the population - were in need of assistance.

The international development charity World Vision, which has 80 people working in the archipelago, said that, although they were able to build up supplies of water, food, tarpaulins, and hygiene kits in advance of the storm, there was still a need for more.

The New Zealand branch of World Vision issued a statement saying: "The full impact is not yet known, but we believe the cyclone has caused heavy flooding, landslides, and mass destruction of buildings."

The Anglican Church of Melanesia, which includes Vanuatu, said that it was yet to hear from any of its bishops or diocesan secretaries in the islands.

In an email on Wednesday, the Archbishop of Melanesia, the Most Revd David Vunagi, said: "As the days go by, I become more anxious than ever. Vanuatu is still silent. Since Easter is not far off, I am only focusing on hope."

In an earlier message, he had explained that phone calls and emails to Vanuatu had not yet been answered. "Here in [the] Solomon Islands [where Archbishop Vunagi is based], some islands in the diocese of Temotu, like Tikopia and Anuta, may be badly affected; but, again, reports are slow in coming.

"Apart from gardens being washed away and houses falling down in some areas, [the] Solomon Islands is generally OK; but, again, we are still waiting for reports."

A UK charity that supports the Church of Melanesia, the Melanesian Mission, has launched an appeal to raise money for the Church. It also asked Christians in Britain to pray for those who have been left bereaved by the cyclone.

The Mission's chair of trustees, the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, said that they were still waiting to hear from the Anglican dioceses in Vanuatu. "The Melanesian Mission is doing what it can, through prayer, and by sharing information with other agencies working in the region. Supporters and parishes across the UK have responded very generously with donations, and, as soon as it can, the charity will transfer these relief funds direct to the dioceses."

The President of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, issued an appeal for help shortly after Cyclone Pam hit the country. He said that the storm had "wiped out" all development in Vanuatu, and that they would have to rebuild "everything".

Almost every house in the capital, Port Vila, is reported to be damaged in some way. Oxfam Australia's country director in Vanuatu, Colin Collet van Rooyen, said that there was no power in the hospital, and that the morgue was severely damaged.

"Clean water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies are also a major issue for those left homeless, and also those in evacuation centres, where there simply are not enough toilets or clean water for the amount of people in those facilities," he said.

An employee from Tearfund New Zealand, Andrew Finlay, who arrived in Vanuatu as the cyclone hit, said that the islands were "a hive of activity" as the survivors started to rebuild their homes and harvest what food was left in their gardens.

"The real hardship will kick in in a few weeks, when those provisions run out and the gardens lie bare," he said. "There will be less food in the market, and people will struggle to afford the imported food. Our priority . . . is going to be to work with the people to get seeds in the ground - quick turn-around crops will ensure that this food shortage is minimised as much as possible."

The Methodist Church's relief organisation All We Can has given £10,000 to the ACT Alliance; and Christian Aid has contributed an initial £25,000. Christian Aid's senior climate-change adviser, Mohamed Adow, said that Cyclone Pam should be seen as a warning of the danger that climate change poses to poor island nations.

"While it is difficult to attribute any one event to climate change, scientists are clear that it makes extreme events like Cyclone Pam more likely," he said. "Rich countries must put forward in advance their own carbon-cutting targets, and set out their support for the poorer countries which are already bearing the brunt of climate change."

Forthcoming Events

21-22 February 2020
Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature
For 2020 the Bloxham festival celebrates ‘The Power of Love’. Book tickets

26 March 2020
Theology Slam Live Final
Competition opens in November - more details coming soon. Read about the 2019 final

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)