by Tom Perry
One month on from one of the most devastating natural disasters to ever hit the South Pacific, international aid organisation CARE has now begun distributing thousands of seeds to Vanuatu’s hardest-hit southern islands.
The seeds – which include nutritious fruit and vegetables such as cabbage, watermelon, tomato, corn, cucumber, spinach and papaya – will ensure communities can begin the process of replanting their home food gardens, critical in a country where much of the population have no access to shops and live off the food that they grow in their own community.
“One month ago today, much of Vanuatu was flattened by one of the worst natural disasters the South Pacific region has ever seen. Fortunately, due to strong preparation and the quick-thinking of thousands of communities across the country, the death toll from Cyclone Pam was remarkably low,” said Inga Mepham, Program Director for CARE Vanuatu.
“However, the scale of destruction has been enormous. In many communities on islands like Tanna and Erromango almost nothing was left untouched; just endless villages of flattened homes, farms and plantations.”
Category Five Cyclone Pam, which hit the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu on 13 March, killed 16 people and affected more than 160,000. More than 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and an estimated 90 per cent of crops were wiped out across the country. In partnership with Governments of the Republic of Vanuatu and Tafea Province, CARE has now distributed 30 tonnes of lifesaving food, and 15 tonnes of basic building and households items to isolated communities across the islands of Erromango, Aniwa, Futuna and Tanna.
CARE’s Inga Mepham said the international aid response to Cyclone Pam remains just as urgent as it was a month ago.
“Communities continue to rely on support from aid organisations like CARE to get through each day. Our focus is on getting aid to people to help them survive, as well as the aid they need to rebuild their lives and incomes.
“We are now distributing seeds that will, over the next three to six months, grow to into nutritious fruit and vegetables for a family. These seeds will ensure families will have food on their plates for the coming months and importantly, will ensure communities can look ahead with hope and optimism.”
Ms Mepham said despite reeling from Cyclone Pam’s devastation, communities in Vanuatu were extraordinarily well organised, self-reliant and supportive of each other, which was exemplified in the cooperation on Tanna island, where communities were combining their food stocks to create more balanced diets.
“The immediate shock of Cyclone Pam was quickly replaced with a relentless determination to rebuild and openness of heart that has ensured everyone in the community is looked after and supported.
“Remarkably, yam is already being harvested on Tanna island’s west, and taro will soon be harvested in the island’s centre, with community leaders in both areas creating informal food trading networks across the island. These networks will continue to be supported by aid agencies including CARE, and will help to create a more balanced diet and supplement humanitarian aid food packs.
“Initiatives like this – where communities are coming together to support each other’s recovery from this terrible event – reflect the resilience, tenacity and community spirit of the Vanuatu people.”
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 $55 can provide five families with seeds and tools so they can grow fruit and vegetables for the coming months.
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.