Fiji damage tops USD 35million, thousands affected

From Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai'i

SUVA, Fiji (RNZI, Jan. 23) - Initial estimates of damage from Fiji's northern and eastern islands ravaged by Cyclone Ami last week have been put at over US$35 million.

Public losses are estimated at $25 million.

The Labasa business community has put its losses of stock from flooding at more than $10 million.

The Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, told Radio Fiji after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that more information about the devastation is still coming in.

Qarase says all government ministries will require cyclone funding and Cabinet has agreed that the funds will be sourced from their existing budgets for this year for the time being.

He says if more funds are needed, other options will be considered.

Qarase left Suva Wednesday for the cyclone hit areas for a personal inspection.

Meanwhile the Consumer Council of Fiji has advised people in the north and east against buying goods damaged by the floods.

A spokesperson says people should not be putting their lives at risk.

The Fiji Teachers Union also has asked the government to put up temporary shelters at damaged schools so they can re-open in time next week.

It says this will ensure that children in cyclone-affected areas do not fall behind those in the rest of the country.

At least 14 people died when the cyclone swept across Fiji last week, damaging homes and crops.

The worst hit areas were the northern island of Vanua Levu, where nine people are still missing, in islands to the southeast.

The government has started distributing food rations to families affected by the cyclone and will soon begin the rehabilitation phase of its relief program.

Qarase says rehabilitation work will cost the government millions of dollars.

"We are talking about over 100,000 people who've been affected and they are scattered over numerous islands. Over 300,000 square kilometers - so it's a huge operational problem," said Qarase.

Meanwhile, authorities in northern Fiji have denied reports that people are starving in the wake of Cyclone Ami because of the delay in the distribution of food rations.

The north and southern parts of Fiji were badly hit by the cyclone last week, which left 14 confirmed deaths and nine people missing.

The Fiji Times newspaper reports more than 1,000 families in Fiji's northern islands are without food because relief distribution has been delayed.

However, the Northern Divisional Planning Office says most people have enough food to last them for the next few weeks

Spokesman Semi Matalau says only people whose homes and crops were washed away by floodwaters are receiving relief assistance.

Matalau says his office has not received any reports of people starving in the northern island of Vanua Levu.

But according to Radio Australia, authorities in the Fijian town of Labasa have cordoned off the town's rubbish dump following reports of people scavenging for food.

Labasa's mayor Charan Jeet Singh says the scavengers were hunting for food and other goods left at the rubbish dump by shop owners.

Singh says the police were called in to chase the scavengers away and health authorities have ordered the dump to be closed.

"There is squatter settlement very close. In any municipality these scavengers do move around looking for anything that is of their interest," said Singh.

He says the northern town has already been affected by the expiry of agricultural leases and the problem is further compounded by the cyclone devastation.

Government relief assistance is currently being distributed in Labasa and other parts of Vanua Levu.

And in response to this, the Australian High Commission in Fiji has donated $21,800 to the Fiji Red Cross Society appeal for victims of Cyclone Ami.

Acting Australian high commissioner Richard Ryan has handed over the check to Red Cross director-general Alison Cupit

The Australian funds will be used for communication equipment, water tanks and pumps, generators and other relief supplies.