Church’s response plan helps residents in aftermath of Cyclone Pam

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The Catholic Church in Vanuatu, supported by Caritas Oceania agencies, including Caritas Australia and Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, have been distributing tarpaulins and other emergency aid as part of recovery efforts in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam.

Many in the population are still without shelter, food, medical supplies and water, as the residents struggle to come to grips with one of the largest disasters in Vanuatu’s history.

With support from the Caritas network, one of the largest humanitarian networks in the world, the Diocese of Port Vila is leading the Church’s disaster response efforts, including immediate access to shelter and access to basic needs. The Office of the Prime Minister in Vanuatu says that up to 70 percent of the population may have been displaced.

Caritas Australia’s Pacific Programs Manager, Stephanie Lalor has returned to Australia from Vanuatu where she, along with Mark Mitchell, Humanitarian Programs Coordinator for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand was assisting the Diocese to coordinate humanitarian relief efforts. Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services, (Caritas in the US) have supplied 2,000 tarpaulins, with timely support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to airlift them with the help of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to Port Vila.

“An estimated 15,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged with 75,000 people still in need of emergency shelter, so in distributing tarpaulins we visited families impacted by the cyclone and tried to identify those most in need,” Ms Lalor said. “Life is still quite difficult for those who don’t have shelter, or whose homes have been significantly damaged.”

In partnership with Oxfam New Zealand, the Diocese of Port Vila is also delivering a Cash for Work scheme for affected families. The program will encourage participants to assist with debris clearing and other recovery activities as identified by the community for which they will earn an income to assist in meeting their own immediate relief needs.

“The Cash for Work scheme is a really important program in encouraging recovery of communities and households whilst promoting the dignity of affected communities to actively respond,” Ms Lalor said.

The Diocese of Port Vila is currently finalising the Church network recovery plan which will have a focus on helping communities in Port Vila and outer islands re-establish shelter and livelihoods, while also continuing to improve preparedness in communities to future disasters.

Ms Lalor said training people in the community how to prepare for disasters like Cyclone Pam more than likely helped save lives. Remarkably only 11 people died. Caritas runs programs in Vanuatu and other Pacific countries to help communities identify those most at risk during disasters, as well as techniques to reduce vulnerabilities and prepare for disasters such as how to secure their homes, store food and emergency supplies and to develop evacuation plans.

“This work to rebuild communities in Vanuatu will continue for years to come. We are encouraging our supporters to raise funds for our current Project Compassion Lenten appeal which helps vulnerable Pacific communities, such as Vanuatu, build back stronger and prepare for future disasters,” said Ms Lalor.

Caritas Australia media advisor Nicole Clements on 0408 869 833 or