Thousands forced from their homes following floods and landslides

By Reeni Amin Chua

Severe flooding and landslides caused by constant heavy rains since last weekend in the northern and western division of Fiji’s largest island of Viti Levu, have forced thousands from their homes to seek safety in evacuation centres. A state of disaster has been declared in the western areas of Nadi Lautoka, Ba, Sigatoka and Rakiraki and at least six people, a family of four and two farmers, have died.

The floodwaters have now started to recede, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. Crops have been washed away; homes, shops and roads damaged; and communities left with no water or power supply.

Staff and volunteers of the Fiji Red Cross Society have been playing a critical role in responding to the immediate needs of many of those displaced. The National Society started distributing emergency relief items to over 3,000 people in 74 evacuation centres, and also to communities stranded by the floods.

"The Fiji Red Cross has taken a proactive role in monitoring this dangerous situation and providing the necessary assistance to affected communities," said Christopher Ho, the organization’s acting director general. "Our focus now is on delivering critical life saving relief such as clothing, cooking and eating utensils, blankets, and tools for making temporary shelters such as tarpaulins, to those in most need. Assessments are underway, and we've already sent our teams of staff and volunteers into communities with essential relief supplies.”

The most immediate need is for food and clean water. In some areas water supplies from taps have been contaminated by the flooding. There are also concerns that food stocks will start to run out at emergency shelters. The loss of crops could also potentially lead to a long term food security issue, as much of the local population relies on subsistence crops.

The Fiji Red Cross Society has prepositioned emergency relief supplies ready for distribution. However, access to most of the affected areas remains a challenge as roads and bridges are not passable, particularly in Nadi and Ba. “With many areas cut off by floodwaters or inaccessible due to damaged roads, Red Cross staff and volunteers often have to make their way to the affected communities on foot through thick mud and floodwaters,” Ho said.

Red Cross volunteers and staff are also providing first aid and care at the evacuation centres, treating many minor cuts and wounds.

More rain has been forcast for the coming days, which could cause more flooding and landslides. There is also continuing risk of water-borne diseases in some areas, due to the flooding of pit latrines in villages and settlements.

The Red Cross has briefed community leaders on health and hygiene precautions to be disseminated to the most vulnerable communities, such as boiling drinking water, hanging out damp clothes and to remain at the evacuation centres until their homes have been cleared from any potential risks.