Tropical Cyclone Pam slammed the east and southern parts of Vanuatu, including Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, on Friday 13 March 2015, with a Category V strength – the highest level rating for a severe tropical cyclone. The eye of the cyclone passed 25 km south- west of Tanna, one of Vanuatu’s southernmost island, with winds reaching an estimated sustained speed of 250 kph and gusts of 320 kph. Vanuatu’s president declared a state of emergency across all six provinces as half of the country’s population, spread over 22 islands, has been affected by Tropical Cyclone Pam. A formal appeal for international assistance was issued.
The extent of the damage in the country and the short-term effect on the people is clear. Primary needs are water, shelter and food; with health and hygiene promotion following closely. Many water sources have been damaged and homes - both informal and semi-permanent - have been damaged or destroyed. According to the latest government statistics, 166,000 people are estimated to be in food need. There have been 11 confirmed deaths while 26 people were referred from remote islands to the capital of Port Vila for health/trauma reasons. Longer-term needs are becoming clearer as detailed assessments continue alongside relief efforts. The needs will predominantly be around food security, shelter and water supply. Hygiene promotion and health are also being mentioned as water is still in short supply. The response to the disaster by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has reached some 11,000 people thus far across 13 islands and 3 provinces. Port Vila, the capital of the island state, though having not been as badly hit as some more remote islands, has its fair share of needs. The needs of the most vulnerable in the capital are also being accommodated for by this operation. The Movement has also been instrumental in restoring family links for 12 families.
The Vanuatu Red Cross Society (VRCS) has mobilized over 200 volunteers and over 30 staff on the ground, working with the humanitarian effort to run evacuation centres, distribute relief aid and continue to assess the impacts and needs in all affected areas. The VRCS is one of the few indigenous organizations with a reach down to community level across the country, and a mandate to support the government at both national and local levels to ensure that short term as well as long term humanitarian efforts are coordinated and as effective as possible.
Contributions, in cash and/or in kind, towards this appeal have so far been received from the American Red Cross, the Australian Red Cross, the British Red Cross, the Canadian Red Cross, the Hong Kong branch of the Red Cross Society of China, the Danish Red Cross, the Japanese Red Cross Society, the Netherlands Red Cross, the New Zealand Red Cross and the Norwegian Red Cross; with the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom, among others, contributing directly or through their respective National Societies. More pledges are in the pipeline or being processed.
Meanwhile the National Societies of Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu are actively involved in mobilizing and distributing some relief items, coordinating with their respective National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), taking stock of inventories, and conducting hygiene promotion activities. Assessments data are coming in from the branches, and being analyzed for appropriate response. The response in these countries will be reported in the next operations update.