Vanuatu needs long-term support, NGOs say

Damage brought about by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. The Australian government announced additional aid for the Pacific island nation. Photo by: UNICEF Pacific

Australian nongovernmental organizations delivering humanitarian assistance in cyclone-hit Vanuatu welcomed Canberra’s latest aid package, but stressed that the aid community as a whole needs to move toward providing long-term assistance to the island nation.

Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu March 13, killing 16 people and affecting more than 160,000. The category 5 cyclone damaged or destroyed over 13,000 homes and wiped out 90 percent of crops across the country.

Australia’s April 16 announcement of 5 million Australian dollars ($3.9 million) in additional aid for Vanuatu brings Canberra’s total support for the island nation to AU$15 million. The new funding will support education, health and food initiatives, which the Australian government has identified as “priority areas for assistance.”

“This money will help get children back into schools, deliver urgently needed medicines and vaccinations and address food shortages in a country where 80 percent of population was reliant on agricultural production that was devastated by the storm,” Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia’s chief executive, told Devex.

This support also comes at a critical time for Vanuatu, according to Kate Moore, UNICEF Australia’s media and communications manager.

“UNICEF and its partners have noted the increasing risk of malnutrition among the youngest and most vulnerable and, undeniably, health care and nutritional support will be required until such a time as the health system can adequately cater to the affected population,” she said.

Food security is essential to the livelihood of the people of Vanuatu, and Inga Mepham, Vanuatu program director for CARE Australia, said Canberra’s latest support “will play an important role in providing greater food security for thousands of families across Vanuatu’s 83 islands.”

“Much of Vanuatu live from the food that they grow in their gardens and farms,” Mepham said. “While communities are doing what they can to replant crops and preserve what they have, the parents that we meet are eating just once a day, and are deeply worried about the health of their children.”

This new aid package also reflects the Australian government’s move from emergency response to address Vanuatu’s long-term recovery needs, a step that development NGOs Devex spoke to welcomed as well.

“Getting Vanuatu get back on its feet is the key priority here and it is encouraging to see the government is already thinking about longer-term recovery needs,” Szoke said.

Majella Hurney, manager of World Vision’s humanitarian and emergency affairs team, stressed to Devex that a long-term response will be required for life in Vanuatu to get back to normal and to improve resilience for disasters in the future.

“The response needed in Vanuatu is going to be a long-term response well beyond 3-6 months,” she said. “Financial and technical support and guidance for ongoing recovery and rebuilding so schools and hospitals can be functional and operational, as well as support for the local economy to recover, will be needed.”

How can Vanuatu’s development partners coordinate long-term recovery efforts for the cyclone-hit island nation? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a freelance data journalist based in Canberra, Australia. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane and online through Lisa has recently been awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.