15 Jan 2009

Number of people in evacuation centres in Fiji has risen to over 9000

11:46 am on 15 January 2009

Officials in Fiji will this morning resume their search for a small boat carrying 24 people, which hadn't made it to Fiji's main island yesterday.

The reports of the missing boat came as heavy rain and high winds continued to lash the country.

Last night, the police sent a team to Suva to co-ordinate a search for the boat carrying 24 people, including several children.

It's believed to be drifting in the channel between the smaller islands and Viti Levu.

Conditions were too rough to launch an official sea search last night.

Storms have caused water levels to rise again in Ba, Sigatoka, Lautoka and Nadi townships.

The death toll remains at eleven, with the bodies of three people yet to be found.

And the number of people in evacuation centres in Fiji has risen to over 9-thousand.

Bad weather returning yesterday has put the 131 evacuation stations across Fiji Islands under strain without enough food or water.

Heavy rain and gale force winds damaged more homes yesterday, leading another three thousand people to seek help.

Meteorologists say heavy rains and gale force winds will continue to batter the country for several more days.

The Red Cross says it has distributed blankets and clothing but it does not have enough food to meet people's needs.

Fiji's Ministry of Health has been urging all mothers to breast feed their babies to combat the spread of diarrhoea in light of the recent flooding.

The Ministry of Health's Promotions Officer, Filipe Komai, says as flooding of low lying areas continues, the water could be contaminated.

He also urges people boil their drinking water, and keep all kitchen utensils clean.

Mr Komai says people should only visit health clinics if there's an emergency, because he says it's safer to stay home at this point in time

The flood damage in Nadi alone is now calculated at more than 54 million US dollars with most businesses ruined and homes devastated.

Meanwhile, Fiji's interim Government will make an official request to other countries through their diplomatic missions and donor agencies to assist victims of the recent floods.

The interim Foreign Affairs Ministry permanent secretary, Ratu Isoa Gavidi, says they had briefings with international and regional organisations yesterday.

He told the Fiji Times they will communicate formally and with a list provided by the Disaster Management office on what is needed.

The UN News Centre reported that United Nations agencies are standing by to provide assistance to Fiji where heavy rains have caused severe flooding.

Meanwhile, New Zealand, Australia, China and Tonga have contributed aid, while the US has announced it'll also contribute 50,000 US dollars that'll go to non-governmental organisations.

And Sugar producers say tens of millions of dollars worth of sugar cane fields have been destroyed.

The Sugar Cane Growers Council is calling on foreign governments to release funds to help farmers devastated by the recent flooding.

The council says losses could be in the region of between 40 and 50 percent.

The Council's CEO, Surendra Sharma, says farmers would normally look to the growers fund for relief, but that will only be a fraction of will be needed.

He says foreign governments, in particular New Zealand Australia and the European Union, had provided aid thats's been blocked since 2006.

"What we'd like is for that is for that aid which has been saved in the last 2 years, this runs into millions of dollars of aid that this should be perhaps re-channeled in the way of humanitarian, disaster relief aid, and other aid that can be channelled to the farmers in some way compensate the farmers."

Meanwhile, Fiji's interim Agriculture Ministry says it's stocked up on livestock drugs in preparation for the treatment of animals due to the current bad weather.

The Director of Animal Health and Production, Shiu Chand, says in times of heavy flooding, livestock are especially prone to many diseases.

Mr Chand is advising farmers to heed the advice by the ministry officials in efforts to prevent the outbreak of diseases.

He says that after the flood, grass should be cut for livestock as soon as possible.

Among other measures advised, animals are to be de-wormed immediately and thereafter at 3-weekly intervals for the next 3 months.