By Rick Hathaway, Asia-Pacific vice president, Habitat for Humanity
The small Pacific nation of Vanuatu was recently hit by a huge disaster, when a category 5 cyclone roared across its islands. Massive destruction was left in the wake of Cyclone Pam. Crops were destroyed; 160,000 people need food aid and 110,000 people need water. According to the United Nations, 15,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, leaving 75,000 people in need of shelter.
When people are hit hard by a natural disaster, losing homes and livelihoods, many flee their communities and settle in evacuation centers. Often this is where they remain for months afterward, dependent on aid. Meanwhile their villages lie in ruin until cleanup begins. This hasn’t been the case in Vanuatu at all.
Rather than being passive recipients of aid, communities have banded together, cleaning up villages and patching up homes. In order to manage from day to day, the people of Vanuatu have been working hard to rebuild as best they can with limited resources. They need far more resources in order to move from survival to recovery. Facing crisis conditions, Vanuatu called out for help in their time of need. The response to that plea for humanitarian aid has been insufficient.
Some have responded. Great work is being conducted by international non-governmental organizations, faith-based and civil society groups. The militaries of New Zealand and Australia arrived in Vanuatu, bringing rescue personnel, engineers, aircraft and ships to support the relief effort. Australia has committed support that has surpassed US$ 7.6 million (10 million Australian dollars). Yet more is still needed.
Vanuatu may be the first country of the 21st century to miss out on millions of disaster aid dollars because of a lack of name recognition; many people outside the Pacific region have never heard of this small nation.
Humanitarian agencies are currently rethinking their disaster response operations and scaling down the numbers of people they aim to help in Vanuatu. This is because the funding needed hasn’t materialized. Donations are needed, not just for emergency relief, but also for recovery and reconstruction. It will take years for this island nation to get back on its feet.
Aid agencies are supporting the work that communities in Vanuatu have already begun. They will supplement efforts at self-recovery, and provide technical assistance on how to repair and rebuild homes. The strength and resourcefulness of the people of Vanuatu is truly amazing. They are using the resources they have to help their neighbors.
So should we.