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Death toll rises, homeless go hungry

Monday 23 March 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT VILA – The United Nations has raised the confirmed death toll in Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam from 11 to 16 in the wake of the direct hit from the devastating category five storm on March 13.

An estimated 50-90 per cent of local dwellings have been damaged by gale-force winds.

Fuel stocks are running low across the affected islands in Vanuatu while electricity is mostly unavailable and generators are essential.

Around 65,000 people are in need of temporary emergency shelter.

A week on, homeless Port Vila residents still await help, according to media reports.

Nearly 400 people left homeless by the cyclone said on Friday that they were not getting enough emergency aid.

The group were among more than 800 people who took shelter from Cyclone Pam in Freswota School, in the capital Port Vila.

But 393 people found their homes totally destroyed and are now forced to live temporarily in the school’s classrooms.

“After the cyclone, about a week ago now, we haven’t received any urgent relief from the government or any NGOs or any other departments,” Charlie Nirua said, who lost his family home in the storm.

“They only give us biscuits and water and all this, just a small quantity of food for people to survive with.”

There are similar grievances from seriously damaged outer islands.

A disaster committee member on the Vanuatu island of Emae says people are continuing to question the speed at which the government is providing aid to cyclone affected people.

Richard Jenery is also the principal of Emae High School and he says relief supplies have been slow in arriving while there have been numerous assessments carried out.

Jenery says 80 per cent of the people on Emae are without shelter and he says they are waiting for more action.

“The village people are asking themselves, what are we going to say? We have already given them information about our households. We are all confused.

“You have three organisations, three people coming in from Vila taking information and we are asking ourselves, are we going to receive help apart from questions? Apart from pictures?”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated 166,000 people had been affected by the cyclone on 22 islands, with thousands in evacuation centres and tens of thousands in need of temporary shelter.

Vanuatu’s government is coordinating relief efforts, attempting to get immediate aid to more than 60 inhabited remote islands in the archipelago.

It has begun to send out food aid and seedlings to parts of the country hit hardest by Cyclone Pam after a week of assessments and planning.

Vanuatu’s prime minister Joe Natuman said the food aid included tinned meat and fish, instant noodles and also more than one million cabbage seeds with gardening tools.

He has urged people to plant green vegetables as soon as possible to replace destroyed crops.

Food, shelters and hygiene kits donated by Australia were loaded onto two ships on Saturday afternoon, with one headed for the Shepherd Islands and the other to the outer islands around Efate.

Natuman was at Port Vila’s main wharf to see the supplies being loaded.

“This is the first shipment –this is what people have been waiting for in the islands,” he said.

The head of the United Nations’ Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, said there were a number of people who urgently needed food and water supplies and assistance rebuilding shelter.

“This is not something that is going to go away. This is something that is going to get more and more severe the longer it takes to reach them,” he said.

“On the good side, on the plus side, the government is doing a fantastic job in assessing what the needs are.

“They’ve already started moving food, water, shelter and medicine down to the worst affected areas.”

Aerial surveys of the islands are continuing with troops from Australia, New Zealand and France all helping in the relief effort.

A New Zealand air force plane flying over Vanuatu’s northern islands has been surveying the damage and checking on potential water sources for survivors.

Speaking from the plane, Vanuatu government representative Cliff Luke said the situation was dire.

“The leftover water in those creeks is what people are using now,” he said. “They are basically drinking mud.”