Solomon Islands

Solomons' flood survivors told again, "No cash handouts!"

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In Solomon Islands disaster management officials are trying to get the message to those affected by the recent floods, that they won't be providing cash grantsIn the weeks since the disaster much of the relief effort has been focussed on getting people out of evacuation centres and back into their communities.

But many are refusing to go, believing that money is available, and that if they leave, they'll miss out.

George Herming from the office of the Solomon Islands' Prime Minister urges flood victims not to believe the rumours.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: George Herming, office of the Solomon Islands' Prime Minister

HERMING: The government is very concerned with those rumours which came out in the last two weeks, saying that government will be providing cash assistance or grants to victims as part of a repatriation package back to their communities, but that is not true and this week, government strongly denied those rumours and encouraged victims or families who were affected not to believe those rumours, instead government is providing non-cash assistance, like building materials and crops or planting materials to get these people back to their communities.

EWART: But are the rumours simply being spread by individuals within the communities and particularly within the evacuation centres or are they coming from more supposedly reliable sources. I'm wondering if that's why the rumours seem to have gathered some momentum?

HERMING: Well, according information that we have gathered, the rumours came mostly from individuals and some groups who were formed in the evacuation centres which were not true and it's a real big concern that these individuals are going around the camps and telling people that government will provide cash grants, but that is purely a rumour, which is not true.

EWART: Now, of course, in the days after the flash floods, I know the government and certainly the relief agencies were very keen to get people out of the evacuation centres and back into the communities just as soon as they could, particularly because of the risk of possible outbreaks of disease and yet here we are with significant numbers of people still in those evacuation centres. So how great a concern is this for the government and what can you do to persuade the people to leave?

HERMING: Well, government is working really hard to get these people back home, because most of the people who are still living in the evacuation centres still have their communities or homes remaining. Their homes were not completely damaged. They would like to back to restart building, because government is concerned that the more live in overcrowded centres, there is the risk of disease outbreaks, as you say. So what we are doing now is to negotiate and encourage these people to go home with the assistance that government will provide, but that's not going to involve any cash.

EWART: Might there come a point where you're going to have to remove people forcibly?

HERMING: Ah, it's likely to be the case if people do not listen to the advice from government and what they are doing now is talking strongly to these people to respect what government is trying to do, especially to assist them to get back, because government is doing it can. It provides transportation and other basic necessities to assist these people back into their communities.

EWART: Now, you made it very clear, of course, during the course of this interview that there are no cash grants available. But how clearly understood is that by the people still in the evacuation centres? What is the government doing to get the message to them?

HERMING: Ah, one of the strongest message that was sent last Friday, was the arrest of two individuals who allegedly spreading these rumours in the evacuation centres, so that arrest and the two persons were the facing courts at the moment. They will appear on the 28th. of this month in the Magistrates Court and based on that arrest, the government is telling people that anybody who is spreading rumours will be arrested as well, so that strongly sends a message that there will be no cash grants.

EWART: And in terms of the wider relief effort, how is that progressing at this stage?

HERMING: Well, the progress of relief efforts to the greater parts of Guadalcanal and other provinces which were affected is ongoing and government is working very closely with other humanitarian agencies, such as Red Cross, UNICEF and other smaller groups. So the recovery efforts or the relief efforts are going on very well at the moment.

EWART: And I gather there's something of a fund raising effort going on within the Solomon Islands community in Port Moresby?

HERMING: Yes, our High Commission office in Port Moresby is organising two major fundraising drives to raise funds towards the relief or recovery efforts and also the Red Cross is making an international appeal for more assistance. This is to provide for basically those in other provinces, because in the last month, straight after the flood, the focus was more in Honiara, which is badly affected during the floods.

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