ShelterBox aid arrives in the cyclone-struck Fiji islands - by superyacht, catamaran and traditional long boat

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A flotilla of boats has been mobilised to spread aid across Fiji’s 330 islands in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.

UK charity ShelterBox is using its Australian and New Zealand affiliates, a response team from the USA, and an alliance with a charity that uses superyachts and catamarans, in order to get aid to Fiji islanders left without shelter in the wake of Cyclone Winston.

On 20 February the most powerful storm ever recorded in the South Pacific hit the paradise islands of Fiji with winds over 200 mph, torrential rain and 40ft waves. The cyclone left 42 dead, buildings flattened and crops destroyed. Around 35,000 people sheltered in 424 evacuation centres, and 97 schools were damaged or destroyed. A state of natural disaster was declared by the Fiji Government, and they put a call out for international aid.

ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Phil Duloy says, ‘We already had some ShelterBox aid stored with Rotary colleagues on the islands. Our response team from the USA were on the islands as soon as flights were restored. Working out of the capital Suva, they are now busy visiting smaller islands such as Batiki, Lautoka, Kubulu and Taveuni to assess the situation and evaluate need.’

‘The United Nations estimates that as many as 350,000 people may be affected, over a third of the Fijian population. Fiji has 900,000 people spread over more than 300 islands, so this will be a complex international aid operation. ShelterBox is working in tandem with the Fiji Government and Shelter Cluster partners.’

‘We are in constant touch with our affiliates in New Zealand, Australia and the USA, and are calling on large volumes of ShelterBox stock stored in Melbourne, Dubai and Subang. There is a shortage of timber for building as a result of the storm, so we will use tents in the immediate phase to stabilise the population and provide them with a platform for their recovery.’

ShelterBox aid is once again proving its portability, with ShelterBoxes lashed to the decks of vessels of all kinds, including the islanders’ traditional long boats. ShelterBox is also using the services of Sea Mercy - a US-based charity that delivers aid and medical expertise via a network of luxury yacht contacts, with a base at Port Denerau in Fiji.

ShelterBox has already dispatched 2,000 LuminAid solar lighting sets, as many communities in Fiji are still without power.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that access to fresh water remains a particular concern. 67,000 Fijians had been suffering drought conditions in January due to El Niño, and most of them live in the corridor affected by the cyclone. Poor road access and communications difficulties are constraining the delivery of aid. On Viti Levu the UN teams found damage was most intensive inland, with some villages having 80% of housing damaged. An OCHA field team has just returned from Koro island reporting that damage was worse than expected, with nearly 1,000 homes destroyed in this one location.