Fiji: UNICEF on stand-by with supplies and personnel in wake of Cyclone Winston

Suva, Fiji, ahead of Cyclone Winston's landfall. The cyclone was upgraded to a category 5 on Friday 19 February as it made its way across the Pacific region, having already impacted Tonga. Photo: UNICEF/UN010591/Clements

21 February 2016 – In the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston that struck the island nation of Fiji Saturday night, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it is on stand-by to provide emergency supplies and additional personnel to support the Government as it works to determine critical needs.

In a statement released today, UNICEF noted that its main concern is for children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers across Fiji.

“Little is yet known about the status of communities living on the outer islands of Fiji that were directly under the eye of Tropical Cyclone Winston, as communications remain down for many,” the agency said.

According to UNICEF, the Government of Fiji is rapidly working to assess the overall situation in order to pinpoint the critical needs. The Government has declared a state of natural disaster for the next 30 days and has initiated the clean-up process by clearing the huge amounts of debris scattered everywhere.

Alice Clements, a Communications Specialist with UNICEF Pacific, said from her base in the capital city of Suva that “the amount of destruction to infrastructure, livelihoods and homes that something like this can do is just immense. It can also completely destroy or severely damage school facilities and health facilities.”

Noting that UNICEF staff members are standing by to assist as required, Ms. Clements stressed that “if we are talking about a worst-case scenario, in addition to injuries and loss of life, you have a situation where people's entire lives, top to bottom, have been turned upside down.”

In a separate statement yesterday, Ms. Clements said she felt the impact of the storm in Suva, with “destructive, howling winds and the sound of rivets lifting from roofs a constant throughout the night.”

“It is likely that smaller villages across Fiji will have suffered the most, given their infrastructures would be too weak to withstand the power of a category 5 cyclone. Families may have lost their homes and crops therefore leaving them without shelter, food and a livelihood,” she added.

UNICEF, a member of the Pacific Humanitarian Team, said it has pre-positioned supplies in Suva and Nadi, including water kits, health kits and education materials such as school tents.

The agency said it will actively support the Government of Fiji, if called on to assist, in leading clusters of agencies working in water and sanitation, education and nutrition, and in child protection.

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