21 Mar 2013

People still without water and toilets in tsunami-hit Solomons province

4:07 pm on 21 March 2013

People are still living under temporary shelter without access to water or toilets in Solomon Islands' Temotu province, almost six weeks after the region was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

The premier, Father Charles Brown Beu, says there are more than one hundred people in tents or under tarpaulins in the centre of the provincial capital, Lata, too afraid to return to their seaside land.

Annell Husband reports.

At least 10 people were killed and thousands displaced after the magnitude eight quake in early February generated waves that tore through coastal settlements, destroying homes and essential infrastructure.

Father Brown Beu says the remaining refugees have returned to work and school but he needs to know what's planned for them.

"Where would people go and so on. The sea is too far from here. One of my major concerns now is there are no toilets in those camps. And stronger ones still go down to the seaside which is about almost, 20, 30 minutes' walk from the huts, temporary shelter, to the sea."

One option is for people to move back to their seaside land but Father Brown Beu says they want reassurance from a geological expert that they'll be safe.

Failing that, people will need land on which to resettle.

Much of the government land has already been taken up but to have a village right in the middle of town doesn't look good to me so they need to be rehabilitated and government should be able to find some land. The landowners, if they can afford to give land to these people, who are from Utupa, from Vanikoro, from Tikopia, from the Duffs and so on. Including the Reef Islands.

The premier says he is prepared to arrange for the provincial government to acquire land for the resettlement.

My problem is money but I can talk to people who own land and say, what about assisting these people, they are only our wantoks and at least they contribute a lot to the economy of Temotu province.

A couple of weeks after the tsunami, frustration over delays in the distribution of relief supplies boiled over into public disorder, resulting in the deployment of extra police from Honiara.

But the Solomon Islands director of the non-governmental organisation World Vision says the aid response following the event has been swifter than after other recent disasters in Solomon Islands, despite the Temotu region's remoteness.

Andrew Catford says a lot more care was taken this time to ensure that supplies only went to those in need.

To be frank in the past there often hasn't been any records of who got what and who's affected so if people do have a complaint it's hard to work it out but this time it was quite systematic and all the agencies sort of worked as a united team and I think there's a really strong lesson about that, that it was a more efficient approach and a more equitable approach.

Andrew Catford says the agencies will be shifting their efforts from relief to recovery over the next few weeks.

He says it'll take longer to restore water supplies and other infrastructure to all the affected communities.

We've actually sent an engineer there who's designing the first couple of I think it's 20 systems while we speak in the most affected areas and then some of the donors are looking at funding the work so particularly we've had some great support from our World Vision Australia office together with Unicef to quickly rebuild those first few systems.

Andrew Catford says making sure the new systems are built in a secure place is a key consideration.

He adds that it's also a key consideration in the rebuilding of homes, along with including diagonal bracing in their construction.