Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold crossed land on the northern island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, in the afternoon of the 5th April 2020. With winds up to 235km per hour, TC Harold was graded at Category 5, the largest cyclone to hit Vanuatu since TC Pam 5 years ago on 13 March 2015.1 TC Harold travelled straight through the Sanma, Malampa, Penama and Torba provinces and also affecting the Shepherds group in Shefa province and a total population of 159,474 (78,142 female, 81,332 male ).
Any cyclone in Vanuatu creates difficulties for the population particularly in relation to food security for a country where 75% of the population live in rural areas and are reliant on subsistence agriculture. Vanuatu is currently also responding to the very real threat of the global pandemic COVID-19 and so disaster response mechanisms have to refocus to respond to the effects of a category 5 cyclone affecting around 58% of the nation’s population.
TC Harold could disproportionately affect women and girls in the Northern provinces impacting their shelter, food security, nutrition, health and protection. In Vanuatu, women have the prime responsibility to ensure that the family has food, they are also the primary care givers for children, the elderly and the disabled who if displaced are at risk of health and protection issues. Maternal and sexual reproductive health (SRH) needs continue in an emergency, but can be overlooked or deprioritised. Women are also responsible for caring for children especially in response to the COVID-19 school closures in Sanma province so if schools are damaged by the cyclone then this will add an extra burden to women’s already considerable workloads.
Disasters cause increased stress in families and particularly if the family house and food crops have been destroyed. Vanuatu already has a high rate of intimate partner/family violence. This may increase due to the stress caused by the cyclone. Women and people with a disability in Vanuatu are generally excluded from household or community decision making which will compromise the quality of a response to the effects of the cyclone as decisions may not be mindful of the different needs of the different groups in society especially women, girls, people with a disability.