OCHA Situation Report No. 7
Solomon Islands - Cyclone Zoë
occurred: 28-29 December 2002
This situation report was produced by the OCHA Regional Disaster Response Adviser for the Pacific. It is based on information gathered at a post-disaster workshop in Honiara on 26-27 February 2003 to look at the lessons to be learnt from Cyclone Zoë, hosted by the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and sponsored by Emergency Management Australia (EMA). Please click here to go to a brief summary of the main findings of the workshop.
The Disaster Impact
1. Tropical Cyclone Zoë was a Category 5 Hurricane - the strongest recorded in the South Pacific in living memory. It battered the remote islands of Tikopia and Anuta in Temotu Province, over 1,100 km from Honiara, with sustained winds of 245 km/h, gusts up to 340 km/h, and extremely strong storm surge, for a period of 16 hours over 28-29 December 2002. Tikopia and Anuta are amongst the most isolated of South Pacific islands, with no telephones or airstrip, and intervals between visits of supply boats of up to 7 months. Their populations are 1,446 and 232 respectively, of whom 54% are female.
2. In spite of its incredible power, the cyclone did not cause any significant injuries or longer-term medical problems. However, 65% of buildings were severely damaged or destroyed including 220 homes, 4 churches, and both primary schools on Tikopia. All water supply systems were damaged, and many canoes and household possessions were lost on both islands.
3. The cyclone destroyed over 90% of gardens and devastated the environment, particularly on Tikopia, where the tree cover was shredded, undergrowth and crops were washed away, buried by silt or killed by saltwater inundation, and the central lake was breached by the sea. In spite of the lack of casualties, assessments have found that the needs of the people are greater and will last longer than initially assumed.
The Emergency Response Operation
4. In accordance with the National Disaster Act (1989), the National Disaster Council (NDC) established a Central Control Group (CCG), led by the Acting Commissioner of Police, the nominated 'Disaster Controller'. The CCG was responsible for the day-to-day control of post-disaster operations, specifically: the mobilization and coordination of agencies in the execution of their roles, the management of the assessment, the collation and prioritization of relief requirements, the preparation of reports, the formulation of relief and recovery programmes, and the dissemination of these reports and plans to donors.
5. A successful assessment mission was conducted to Tikopia and Anuta over 2-12 January. This mission was mounted on two separate vessels causing some coordination complications, but it did bring together the varied expertise of many agencies including the Red Cross, key NGOs, the UN, and a donor, and they were able to gather much valuable information. A detailed technical assessment of the agricultural sector was conducted on 24-25 January 2003.
6. A total of 5 vessels have now been dispatched to the islands with technical assistance, relief items and reconstruction materials provided largely by donors, the Red Cross, and NGOs. Another vessel containing local and manufactured building materials for the rehabilitation of homes and the three primary schools, water supplies, seedlings and other planting materials, food and educational materials is scheduled to depart on 7 April 2003. A medical team including a nutritionist will travel on the same vessel to reassess the health status of the population. Communities in other provinces have contributed food relief and planting materials for recovery, including coconut plants, banana, pineapple, cassava, taro, and sago palm. Tikopians now living elsewhere in the Solomon Islands have also given assistance, including sending manpower back to the islands. The Red Cross is now attempting to replenish its emergency stocks with overseas assistance.
The Rehabilitation and Recovery Programme
8. Some recommendations of the agricultural assessment - to assess current food security, to analyze the soils and estimate how long it will take to regain productivity - have already been carried out. Although a full agricultural and fisheries recovery plan has not yet been prepared, the Solomon Islands 'Kastom Gaden Association' may station an adviser on Tikopia to oversee replanting, and further food security assessments will be carried out over the coming months. Relief will have to continue well beyond March, but is conditional on finding donors to meet the costs of the food and transport.
9. All inhabitants have at least one source of fresh water and the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the water supply systems has commenced. Plans to reconstruct the two primary schools on Tikopia, and to repair the third on Anuta at a cost of USD 72,000, to replace the clinic and nurse's quarters on Tikopia for USD 62,000, to supply materials for the construction of new outrigger canoes for USD 29,000, and to provide an engineering solution to the breach in the seaward side of the central lake on Tikopia for USD 30,000, have been prepared and submitted to the Government. The European Union has approved funding for these projects and the purchasing of required materials has started.
10. Although the communities on the islands demonstrated enormous resilience in coping with the storm and its immediate aftermath, they are faring less well today. The environments of Tikopia and, to a lesser extent, Anuta have been severely damaged and will not recover for years. The worst problems are the loss of most of the tree cover including fruit trees, erosion or heavy silting of gardening areas, the total destruction of 220 homes and significant damage to another 50. In addition, there is evidence of depression caused by post-traumatic stress, exacerbated by the fact that people feel powerless to improve their harsh situation. These mental and social problems need to be addressed appropriately, within prevailing culture and traditions.
11. The islanders have built temporary shelters from debris and plastic sheeting and have attempted to patch up the damaged houses. Proper reconstruction is impossible because of the total loss on both islands of sago palm trees, the leaves of which are used to make wall panels and thatch roofs. As there is no possibility of rebuilding destroyed houses without outside assistance, the NDMO organized the collection of materials from Isabel and Makira Provinces and the Tikopian community in the Russell Islands. Unfortunately, there is little surplus of bush building materials across the country and the amount supplied so far would build only about 50 homes - far short of the total quantity needed. A concerted effort is needed to meet this urgent need, with a procurement and delivery plan and adequate funding. Enabling people to help themselves by giving them the means to rebuild their homes would help them to overcome the trauma of the disaster, as well as solving the desperate shelter problem.
12. Food production will not begin to recover for 4-6 months and may take years. Although starvation is not possible whilst the NDMO can continue to find donors to provide food relief, the population of both islands has gone from being entirely self-sufficient to entirely dependent on external aid. There is little topsoil and undergrowth left in at least two village areas, no tree cover to give shade from the sun, and people have no options for rebuilding their homes and livelihoods or for relocating. The living conditions for over half the families on Tikopia are sub-standard and their needs are probably greater now than in January, yet this is precisely when interest in their plight is in danger of tailing off.
13. OCHA is prepared to serve as a channel for cash contributions to be used for immediate relief assistance, in coordination/consultation with relevant organizations in the United Nations system. For banking details please contact the Desk Officers indicated below. OCHA provides donors with written confirmation and pertinent details concerning the utilization of the funds contributed. For coordination purposes, donors are requested to inform OCHA Geneva, as indicated below, on relief missions/pledges/contributions and their corresponding values by item.
14. The OCHA Regional Disaster Response Adviser remains in contact with the NDMO and other key actors but, unless there are unforeseen developments, this is the final situation report on this disaster.
15. This situation report, together with information on other ongoing emergencies, is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at http://www.reliefweb.int
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(in N.Y.) Ms. Stephanie Bunker, direct Tel. +1-212-963 87 40
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