Solomon Islands

Communities struggle to build back better nine months after Cyclone Pam

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Ramotala’s house was completely destroyed during Cyclone Pam. He and his family had to seek shelter in another community member’s home during the cyclone. © Navin Kumar/IFRC

By Navinesh Kumar, IFRC

Nine months since Tropical Cylone Pam swept through the Solomon Islands, the people of Malaita province, situated in the North East of the capital, are still struggling to recover from its impact.

26-year-old Mark Ramotala of the Nineveh community in Malaita, which has a total population of approximately 50 people, said that they are still facing food shortages.

For this coastal community, its close vicinity to the seafront meant that it was particularly exposed to the severe weather conditions caused by Cyclone Pam. Landslides triggered by heavy rains have washed away all the gardens the community used to grow crops. Food has not been growing well following the cyclone and the community is struggling to survive, as they can no longer sell their crops at the local markets or the provincial town of Auki.

“I live next to the coast. A tidal swell from the sea flooded my garden and I lost all my crops,” Ramotala said. He also explained that the rainwater harvesting catchment structures were destroyed and the cyclone contaminated most of the wells.

With El Niño currently affecting the Pacific, the communities are facing even more difficulty ploughing the land and planting their root crops. “We are already facing a drought, making our situation worse. We are getting very little to no rain as the humidity is taking its toll on our root crops. It will certainly take a little more time for life here to be normal again,” Ramotala concluded.

30-year-old Cyrine Samani Kira of the Onafolo community in Malaita is no stranger to the devastating effects of the cyclone. Her family has had to survive on rice alone after Cyclone Pam made landfall. “It took many weeks before we could eat the food we planted in our gardens again,” she said.

Since the destruction of their gardens, Kira struggled to earn a living, selling pancakes to fulfil her family’s needs. “Three days after the cyclone, we began the work of repairing our roof. We got up early each morning to get sago leaves to sew for the roof. It took days of hard work before the roof was temporarily replaced.”

The Solomon Islands Red Cross provided the cyclone-affected communities with non-food items like buckets, hoes, bush-knives, handsaws and hammers to help communities rebuild their homes.

“Without the tools, it would have taken us quite a while to rebuild our home,” Kira added. “We also know the importance of building better and stronger homes. Some community members are now building permanent buildings.”

Like the Niveneh community, the water supply in the Onafolo community was also damaged by the cyclone. The Red Cross is working to improve access to safe water through the repair and rehabilitation of water sources and rainwater catchments.

In total the Red Cross has reached approximately 2,500 people across the Solomon Islands with emergency relief assistance and is targeting a further 1,500 people in the very remote islands of Anuta and Tikopia with recovery activities in the coming year.