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‘People are struggling’: Tikopia continues to suffer post-Lola

Tuesday 21 November 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in Regional, Vanuatu

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‘People are struggling’: Tikopia continues to suffer post-Lola
Cyclone damage in Tikopia. Photo: Scott Nguyen/Supplied/23112012

Food supplies are running low on Tikopia Island, in the far east of the Solomon Islands, despite fresh supplies arriving on Thursday. The islands crops were destroyed during severe tropical cyclone Lola that made landfall about a month ago.

Kensley Manu, who's from Tikopia, was told by locals via satellite phones that food stocks would not last long.

"There's no food and people are asking around now, they only have one or two meals a day," Manu said.

"They said they were lucky that the patrol boat arrived on time.

"People are struggling and are still trying to get up with what happened. I think they really need help from outside."

Manu said people's homes were also badly damaged, and there was little time to prepare before the cyclone arrived.

At its peak, gusts from Lola reached around 300kph when it reached category five strength - the highest scale possible for a cyclone.

In Pentecost Island in Vanuatu - that was directly hit by Lola when it was at category four strength - the environment is starting to make a comeback.

Teacher Andrew Gray said aid had removed a lot of stress surrounding food security and most had managed "crude fixes" to their homes.

"Food Aid is starting to be distributed to people whose gardens have been wrecked," Gray said.

"The landscape is slowly changing colour, it hit peak brownness about a week after the cyclone when all the smashed vegetation had decayed and withered, now it's very slowly starting to turn green again."

Vanuatu has been battered by three cyclones in the past eight months, all at or surpassing category four strength.

Lola arrived at the end of October before the official cyclone season started.

"People are wondering, is this just bad luck or is it climate change?

"People are really thinking about planning for the future and what we're rebuilding, is it going to survive the next cyclone?

"Almost every time dark clouds gather, people are rushing to sort of find someone with data on their phone to check the weather forecast," Gray said.

UNICEF Vanuatu's field office chief Eric Durpaire said the repetition is affecting children's development.

"More are sick, more are weak, less are able to recover and that really impacts the future of their lives with capacity development.

"So today that's really the concern is a repetition of cyclones and lack of time to recover."

He said everyone in Vanuatu was worried that the cyclone season had just started.

Thousands of Vanuatu school students had their education disrupted.

Gray said his school, Ranwadi College, returned for only two weeks, except for seniors who have continued to finish their exams.

He said students are frustrated because the end of year graduation ceremony will be far smaller than previous years.

"It's a really big event in students' lives, their families come and quite a lot of these students are the first generation of their families to complete high school so it's quite a big deal for them.

"[The ceremony] has had to be drastically scaled back because the chapel is half damaged and food supplies are enough for people to eat at home but not adequate for a big public feast."

  • RNZ