Vanuatu's top development partners come to cyclone-hit island's aid

A view of the damage Cyclone Pam caused in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The category 5 cyclone affected half of Vanuatu’s population. Photo by: UNICEF Pacific

Two days after a powerful cyclone tore through the small archipelago in the South Pacific, donor support has started to pour in and aid agencies have begun humanitarian work on the ground.

Australia and New Zealand, the two largest donors to Vanuatu, flew in emergency humanitarian supplies and medical teams over the weekend. They also sent teams to assess the extent of the damage not just in the capital Port Vila, but in neighboring cities and islands as well.

Cyclone Pam made landfall late Friday evening in Tanna, a small island 200 kilometers south of the capital city. Tanna felt the full force of the category 5 cyclone, and while a full assessment of the damage in the island is not yet available, early reports suggest “devastation on a massive scale.”

In the island of Efate, where Port Vila is located, 90 percent of structures are either damaged or completely destroyed. An early situation report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs notes more than 1,500 people in the island have evacuated to at least 25 temporary shelters.

Australian nongovernmental organizations on the ground, including Oxfam, Caritas, CARE and UNICEF, are reporting unprecedented levels of destruction, which is estimated to affect about 132,000 people — or half Vanuatu’s total population.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with worse than the worst case scenario in Vanuatu,” Oxfam Australia Executive Director Helen Szoke told Devex. “This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific.”

World Vision staffer Chloe Morrison said they had been preparing supplies in the week leading up to the cyclone, and the immediate priority was to provide emergency shelter, access to clean water and food.

“People here are subsistence farmers. Crops will be wiped out,” Morrison told Devex. “And any surplus food will likely rot by the end of the week because of all the rain. If we can’t reach some of these communities, hunger and lack of clean water could really become a problem.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, President Baldwin Lonsdale said this “monster” has “wiped out” all of the development that has taken place in the small archipelago in the South Pacific. Lonsdale, who is in Sendai, Japan, for the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, has called on the international development community for humanitarian aid.

And there are many development partners on standby, according to Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group vice president and special envoy for climate change, who is also in Sendai.

“As soon as the immediate humanitarian assessment is done, humanitarian relief will be underway,” she told Devex, adding that she’s met with Lonsdale twice “to make sure that he knew that we were on hand to do whatever we could do.”

Donors pledge support

On Sunday, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced an initial assistance package, which includes 5 million Australian dollars ($3.8 million) for Australian NGOs working on the ground, as well as for the Red Cross and U.N. partners. It also includes water, and sanitation and shelter kits for 5,000 people.

New Zealand meanwhile has set aside 2.5 million New Zealand dollars ($3.7 million) in assistance not just for Vanuatu, but also for neighboring countries affected by the cyclone — Fiji, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands. About NZ$1.4 million will be coursed through New Zealand NGOs working in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, while at least $500,000 will be given to the government of Vanuatu, in response to requests for supplies and technical assistance.

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, will make up to 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) “immediately available” for U.N. organizations and international NGOs already working on the ground. Another 1 million pounds will be provided through its Rapid Response Facility, which provides emergency assistance through preapproved organizations.

The governments of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are working closely together — and with Vanuatu’s government — to determine the extent of the cyclone’s damage and the immediate humanitarian needs.

In addition to these three donor governments, the European Commission has extended 1 million euros ($1.05 million) for Vanuatu’s emergency relief efforts, channeled through the donor’s humanitarian partner organizations on the ground. Funding will mainly provide for shelter, drinking water and medicine.

The Asian Development Bank has meanwhile pledged to support all countries affected by the cyclone, and has made available $5 million from the Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund and other sources for emergency support and initial reconstruction work in Vanuatu.

Japan has provided emergency support as well, sending 20 million yen ($165,000) worth of shelter materials and other relief goods through the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Canada meanwhile has contributed to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.

While the World Bank has yet to announce emergency funding, it is considering releasing a rapid insurance payout to Vanuatu’s government under the Pacific Disaster Risk Financing Insurance Program.

“This has been a devastating cyclone for Vanuatu, so swift assistance of this nature is a very welcome commitment,” World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello said.

Does your organization have operations in Vanuatu? With communications largely down, how is your organization coordinating disaster response with teams on the ground? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the authors

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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.
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    Aimee Rae Ocampo

    As former Devex editor for business insight, Aimee created and managed multimedia content and cutting-edge analysis for executives in international development.