Vanuatu

Cyclone Pam: Women the backbone of Vanuatu’s disaster recovery

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By Tom Perry

As the international relief effort in Vanuatu continues, aid organisation CARE Australia says it is critical that international aid targets the needs of women and girls.

Category Five Cyclone Pam hit the Pacific island nation on 13 March, affecting more than 165,000 people, damaging or destroying an estimated 15,000 homes and buildings, washing away 90 per cent of crops and leaving much of Vanuatu’s rural population without food or drinking water.

CARE has now delivered food, hygiene support and shelter repair kits to thousands of families on the southern islands of Aniwa, Erromango and Futuna, and is the lead organisation working across Tafea Province alongside the Tafea Provincial Government.

CARE Vanuatu’s Emergency Manager Charlie Damon said that as the international relief effort in Vanuatu begins to look at longer term issues such as food security and household incomes, it was critical that this support included specific support for some of Vanuatu’s most vulnerable women and girls, including new mothers and those in charge of households.

“Following emergencies, women and girls remain at risk of life-threatening health and nutrition problems,” said Ms Damon. “Many women in the communities we work with are already worried about their community’s food supply and are busy rebuilding their gardens to grow food again. They are happy about the emergency food distribution but are looking for more certainty about the timing of the flow of food assistance and are requesting seeds.”

“Critically, we need to ensure food deliveries support the needs of new mothers and babies, that hygiene assistance includes support for women during menstruation, and that shelters and toilet construction provide women and girls with protection and privacy.”

Ms Damon said that it was important to recognise the critical role women had played in saving lives when Cyclone Pam struck, and their ongoing role in leading community recovery.

“In many communities, women’s groups are the linchpin of community action,” said Ms Damon. “Women led hundreds to emergency shelters during the height of the storm and ensured food and water supplies were in place; all while continuing to care for their terrified families.

“It’s critical that we mobilise the strength of women’s leadership while continuing to provide support, care and protection to the many thousands of women that have lost everything in this devastating disaster.”

To donate to CARE’s Cyclone Pam response, visit www.care.org.au/pam, call 1800 DONATE (1800 020 046) or SMS ‘PAM’ to 0455 020 020. A donation of $24 can provide a woman with a hygiene kit so she can stay healthy, or $55 can provide five women with seeds and tools so they can begin to rebuild their lives for their families.

CARE has worked in Vanuatu since 2008, focussing on building resilience to disasters and climate change shocks, and increasing women and girls’ involvement in community leadership.

CARE Australia is an international humanitarian aid organisation fighting poverty, with a special focus on working with women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities.