By Madeline Wilson, IFRC
One month has passed since Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu. The full force of the storm's ferocious winds and torrential rain was felt across 22 of the country’s islands, destroying homes and livelihoods and causing extensive damage to local ecology. An estimated 166,000 people were affected with 75,000 left in need of emergency shelter support and over 100,000 requiring supplies of clean drinking water.
Cyclone Pam also caused varying degrees of destruction in the neighbouring countries of Tuvalu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, prompting the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to launch an emergency appeal for all five affected nations.
In Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Red Cross supported by the IFRC has played a leading role in relief efforts, reaching over 20,000 people with emergency aid. The main focus has been on distributing family kits, which contain emergency shelter materials such as tarpaulins together with personal hygiene items, kitchen sets, sleeping mats, water containers and other household items.
“Over the past month we managed to deliver relief supplies to 15 islands. Some communities were as small as 20 households. They were very remote and hard to reach”, explains Frido Herinckx, who led the IFRC’s Field Assessment and Coordination team (FACT) in Vanuatu. “Transport was limited as many boats had been damaged. It was a scramble to secure sea vessels and helicopters, so our tactic was to undertake rapid assessments and carry out distributions in one go”.
After the cyclone the Vanuatu Red Cross was the first organisation to receive government approval to begin relief distributions. A team of over 200 local volunteers joined staff from the Vanuatu Red Cross to deliver the relief materials with support from 20 international Red Cross staff.
Sagaitu (Etu) Josaia from Fiji Red Cross deployed to Vanuatu as a member of the Red Cross Regional Disaster Response Team. Etu says he was glad to be able to share his knowledge and experience with another Pacific island National Society in their time of crisis.
“In Fiji I have experienced similar challenges in reaching remote populations in need, like travelling with relief supplies for days on boats to deliver assistance,” says Etu. “When you reach an island and see a village chief almost crying with appreciation that they haven’t been forgotten, it’s a very powerful thing. It motivates me in my work.”
Now that the emergency phase of the Red Cross operation is nearing completion attention is shifting towards meeting longer term needs.
“Among other things, we plan on helping families to build back safer and stronger homes and we will be supporting improvements to local water catchment systems”, explains Jacqueline De Gaillande, CEO of Vanuatu Red Cross. ”Disaster risk reduction must be central to our recovery efforts. This covers early warning systems, health education and training in first aid. Our focus is on building the resilience of communities so that people can cope better if such disasters happen again in the future.”