Mud, sweat and cheers: the Vanuatu recovery in relief

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Thigh-deep in the same mud being cleared from underneath our four-wheel drive, the tropical rain begins to pour down on us again and the challenges of distributing relief supplies outside Port Vila, Vanuatu become very apparent.

We’re just half an hour’s drive from the centre of Port Vila, and yet the sealed road to Rango Rango village quickly became a mud-slick, deeply rutted track as we made our slow way into the hills to deliver 50 Caritas tarpaulins to families that emergency supplies have yet to reach.

Up here amongst the rain-shrouded valleys and the loosely clustered houses, people have done what they can to fix their torn roofs and replant shredded crops. But more than a month on from Cyclone Pam and many in the area are still struggling to rebuild suitable shelter and feed hungry family members.

These are some of the very same people that are now working alongside us with shovel, hoe and hands to help dig our SUV – laden with tarpaulins – from the watery muck.

Three hours on, and a far more rugged truck full of people from the village heading home arrives on the scene to lend a hand. Shouts of encouragement from a leading member of our now-large contingent spur us on and the vehicle is freed with a muddy slurp.

Congratulations and thanks are spread around our weary group.

“It’s an emergency and this is what we do, we help each other,” says Jake, a burly, smiling man with close-cropped salt and pepper hair who lives 200 metres from where we’ve stalled.

Looking to the pile of unloaded tarpaulins, we haul them across to the truck and join the others clinging to a metal frame bolted to the flat bed. A bucking, rolling and lurching journey to our destination ensues, as we cut across cavernous ruts and deep pools of rain water.

Twenty exhilarating/harrowing minutes later we arrive in the village of Rango Rango with the chief aboard, having picked him up en route, and unload the packaged tarps.

From the cleared area in front of the chief’s houses we can see a number of roofless and semi-roofless houses, as well as flat areas where houses once stood. Swept clean by the massive storm, all that remains are the odd support pole and holes where even these have been plucked straight from the ground and strewn amongst the debris of broken trees.

Of course some houses have withstood the storm, and we make our way over to one to secure a tarpaulin where the corrugated iron roof used to be.

As we head back down the track again from what will be one of our final distributions before we begin the next steps of the recovery, we discuss the best ways to rebuild houses to weather the next category 5 storm with a local builder. He calls back a thank you over his shoulder, before jumping off outside his damaged house with a tarpaulin under his arm.