UN relief agencies ramp up support to cyclone-hit Vanuatu as country’s President appeals for assistance

A child looks through a doorway as Cyclone Pam hits Vanuatu, March 2015. Photo: UNICEF Pacific

15 March 2015 – Amid reports that powerful Cyclone Pam has impacted at least half the population of Vanuatu, the country's President, attending a United Nations conference under way in Japan aiming to reduce disaster risk, appealed for international support in anticipation of large-scale needs.

"Vanuatu is used to disasters but the indications are that Cyclone Pam has caused unprecedented damages, said President Baldwin Lonsdale in a press release issued on his behalf by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

The leader of the island nation noted that following a direct hit from the Category 5 storm on Friday, at least two deaths have been confirmed and over 30 injured people are being treated in the Central Hospital in the capital, Port Vila where many people are now homeless and torrential rain has led to severe flooding. He also said bridges which link the capital with the rest of the island have been destroyed.

Mr. Lonsdale made his appeal from Sendai, Japan, where he has been attending since Sunday the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. The Conference has drawn thousands of Government and civil society delegations to craft a new framework for managing disaster risk which will reduce mortality and curb economic losses.

In opening remarks to the Conference over the weekend, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that while the impact and scope of the disaster in Vanuatu is not yet clear, he feared the damage and destruction could be widespread.

Mr. Lonsdale reported through UNISDR that Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office is coordinating an aerial survey today of the affected areas the Government would then have a better idea of what has happened in the outlying islands.

“We are particularly concerned about the province of Tafea. However, I can say from past experience that there will be severe damage to schools, health facilities, roads and public utilities,” he said, adding that there will also be significant humanitarian needs as large numbers of people have lost their homes in the capital Port Vila.

"This is a major calamity for our country. Every year we lose 6 per cent our GDP (gross domestic product) to disasters. Calling the cyclone “a huge setback” for the country's development, Mr. Lonsdale added that it would also have severe impacts for all sectors of economic activity including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing.

The country is already threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels in addition to five active volcanoes and earthquakes. “This is why I am attending this Conference and why Vanuatu wants to see a strong new framework on disaster risk reduction which will support us in tackling the drivers of disaster risk such as climate change."

Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that perhaps half the population of Vanuatu, It is estimated that at least half the population of Vanuatu has been affected by cyclone Pam. Of these, at least 54,000 are children.

Many homes in Vanuatu have likely been destroyed as they are built with natural and local materials such as thatched and corrugated roofs that are vulnerable to strong winds and floods.

UNICEF also reports that schools, churches and community halls are being used as emergency shelters. Many of these buildings are likely to have suffered structural damage. Lifeline facilities like hospitals, electrical utilities, water supply and telephone systems are most likely severely damaged.

Other Pacific Island countries have been severely impact as well, including the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati.

In Vanuatu, health centres have likely sustained severe damage and will need rebuilding and restocking with medical and nutrition supplies. Plans are under way to support the Government to do a major measles immunization campaign, given recent cases.

Schools are being used as evacuation centres, and UNICEF will be supporting children's education, including providing school in a box kits. Child friendly spaces will be set up in evacuation centres to provide children with psycho-social assistance.

UNICEF's immediate needs to assist the affected countries is at least $2 million, initially covering support to water, sanitation, hygiene, health, education, nutrition and protection services, and including support for the high costs of logistics across this vast geographic area.

Just yesterday, Sune Gudnitz, Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Regional Office for the Pacific said Vanuatu had accepted OCHA's offer to deploy staff to support the coordination of the response.<>\P>

A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team was expected arrive in Port Vila late yesterday. OCHA was also expected to deploy three staff with information management, public information and humanitarian coordination as well.


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Jaylene tells of how her house was ripped apart by Cyclone Pam. Credit: UNICEF Pacific


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