Disease a risk in cyclone-hit Fiji

Originally published
A state of disaster has been declared on Fiji's second largest island of Vanua Levu, and the islands of Lau and Lomaiviti after the archipelago was hit by Cyclone Ami last week. Serious concerns are now also being expressed at the risk of serious outbreaks of water-borne diseases including cholera and leptospirosis, which is endemic to the area.
At least 14 people were killed and nearly 133,000 people affected by Ami which hit Fiji on January 14. With gusts of more than 185 km per hour and heavy rainfall that led to floods and landslides, Ami destroyed homes, crops, buildings and essential utilities such as electricity and water supplies. The worst affected areas were Vanua Levu, Taveuni and other islands known as the Lau Group.

The damage to electricity supplies meant that as much as 75 per cent of the population in some urban areas are without access to clean drinking water. Meanwhile, in rural areas, flash floods have contaminated water sources.

"We really have to work fast to prevent an outbreak of water-borne diseases. So far, there have been no cases, but if we are to ensure that it stays like this, communities have to be provided safe water until water supplies are restored to them," says Alison Cupit, director-general of the Fiji Red Cross.

The Fiji Red Cross, has targetted the provision of clean water as a major component of its relief programme for cyclone victims. It has already assisted 53,000 people with relief supplies including clothing, blankets, hygiene items and shelter materials. But in addition, it has distributed water containers, oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets as well as deploying a water purification plant to the district hospital at Labasa on Vanua Levu.

But with all Fiji Red Cross buffer stocks now exhausted, the International Federation has launched an appeal for 820,000 Swiss francs (US$ 552,000) so that the Red Cross can assist 30,000 people for two months. Funds will be used to provide the people with clean drinking water until the water systems have been repaired in urban areas and for the continued distribution of water purification tablets and jerry cans in rural areas. The Fiji Red Cross will also distribute non-food relief items and reconstruction materials for community buildings such as schools. The aim - to ensure the start of the new school year is delayed by as little as possible.