Fiji Flash Appeal: Tropical Cyclone Winston, February - May 2016

Originally published



Tropical Cyclone Winston, the most powerful cyclone to strike Fiji in recent time, cut a path of destruction across the country on 20 and 21 February 2016. The eye of the Category 5 cyclone packed wind bursts of up to 320 kilometres per hour. The cyclone tracked west across the country, causing widespread damage in all four divisions – Eastern, Northern, Western and Central. It affected up to 350,000 people (170.000 female and 180,000 male) - equivalent to 40 per cent of Fiji’s population. This includes 120,000 children under the age of 18 (58,000 female and 62,000 male) and more than 3,100 people with disabilities.

The hardest hit areas are the Lau group and Lomaiviti groups, which includes Koro Island, in the Eastern Division, Rakiraki and Tavua in Western Division and Taveuni and Cakaudrove in Northern Division. Several locations such as Koro Island were directly in the eye of the storm, razing most buildings and crushing all food crops and other vegetation. Powerful storm surges added to the destruction as they swallowed low lying communities. Most of these villages will have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Fiji, like most Pacific countries, was already suffering from the impact of the strong El Niño event, which has caused drought and water shortages. Many of the communities most severely affected were also hard hit by TC Winston. For example, of the 67,000 people targeted with water deliveries at the end of January, the vast majority live in the corridor also most affected by the cyclone. Similarly, in the Western Division where nearly three quarters of the affected persons live, sugar production had already been severely impacted by the El Nino, and TC Winston further decimated the sugar cane crops with likely significant financial implications for the Fijian sugar industry.

Fijian Government estimates the total damage bill to be more than FJ$1 billion, or US$500 million. Shelter, health, food, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and protection have been identified as the most urgent needs for affected people.

While comprehensive damage data is still being collected, the Government’s initial reports indicate varying levels of destruction, with up to 100 per cent of buildings destroyed on some islands. Based on evacuation centre figures and currently available damage data, approximately 24,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed, leaving an estimated 53,635 people (six per cent of the total population) in almost 1,000 evacuation centres.

Subsistence agriculture plays an important role in Fijian’s food security and livelihoods. Damage to agriculture has been estimated at around US$60 million (FJ$120 million) with 100 per cent of crops destroyed in the worst affected areas. Much of people’s subsistence crops are ruined and community markets have either been destroyed or are inaccessible in affected areas.

To date, 42 people have lost their lives as a result of the cyclone. Both the structure and function of health facilities was disrupted at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Initial assessments indicate that 63 health facilities, or 38 per cent of health facilities in the country, have been severely or moderately damaged.

Many people are now without access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene services. Around 250,000 people are in need of water, sanitation and hygiene assistance. Piped water supplies have been restored to most urban areas; however people living in rural areas are dependent on unsafe and unprotected water sources, resulting in increasing reports of diarrhea. More than 60,000 primary and secondary students (29,113 girls and 30,887 boys) have been affected. Approximately seven per cent of schools are completely destroyed and 20 per cent are partially damaged, not including early education centres.

The humanitarian community is appealing for US$38.6 million to reach 350,000 people with lifesaving assistance and protection.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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