5 Apr 2014

Solomons' storm has devastating impact on infrastructure

2:18 pm on 5 April 2014

A spokesperson for a non government organisation working in Solomon Islands says it is estimated that at least a quarter of the population on Guadalcanal has been affected by this week's flooding.

This comes after days of near continuous rain that has flooded rivers, washed away houses, brought down trees, swept ships onto shore and claimed a yet unknown number of lives.

Don Wiseman asked Save the Children's logistics and emergencies manager, Graham Kenna, whether the rain, which began on Tuesday, has stopped.

GRAHAM KENNA: yes it has eased, the forecast is isn't good but the rain has eased, it has definitely eased, I even saw a bit of sunlight this morning.

DON WISEMAN: This threat of a cyclone is now something that will form off shore so that must be a relief of sorts.

GK: Yes it certainly is a relief, it has given us the opportunity or it's given the agencies an opportunity to get outside of Honiara and do some assessments out there, it's not a pretty picture.

DW: Yes, tell us about it?

GK: Well so far we have found 37,000 outside of Honiara who are affected by the flooding.

DW: So what, they've been made homeless? In what way are they affected?

GK: Yep, they've been made homeless, mostly they are people living in rural communities who are just live in traditional houses and the infrastructure means the bridges are out both sides of Honiara on the east and on the west, there out so we can't get vehicles out there but a helicopter has just left to see if can do much more in-depth assessment of those areas.

DW: These 37,000 people they have all lost their houses?

GK: I can't categorically say that. The words the assessors have given is that they are severely affected by the flooding. It could mean they have lost all their crops, could mean a number of different things but that's what they are giving us a figure of now of being affected.

DW: So we are talking, with the people also affected in Honiara, we are talking about a quarter of the people on Gudualcanal affected by the story.

GK: Yeah we are up to 50,000 and personally I think people actually affected by it is going to be a lot, lot more than that. There's a lot of extremely dazed people walking around the capital now, there's been some horrific scenes and people are really struggling.

DW: What is the official death toll now?

GK: It's at 16 with up to 40 missing, and most of those 40 are children and I don't think they will survive.

DW: The government's declared I think all of Guadalcanal a disaster zone. Is that right?

GK: That's correct, the entire island is now official declared a disaster zone.

DW: And what does that mean?

GK: Well, it's officially asked for external international assistance but a state of emergency powers mean that the police have more powers. I really don't know the complete reason for the rules that go with a state of emergency, sorry.

DW: We have heard that there have been issues with looting in Honiara.

GK: Well, yeah, you could call it looting, you know a lot of people are walking in flooded streams and they see a pot that's washed out of a business and they'll pick it up and take it home, they are not going to run around and try and find a business that lost a pot. So a lot of it is opportunism, you see people with boxes of noodles or things that have floated away from shops. There's no violence looting, the people are conveniently finding things outside shops and floating in the river, and so they are taking them home, yeah. I wouldn't call it traditional looting, it's not breaking into shops and stealing.

DW: Solomon Islands over the years has been through number of major traumas but people are saying this is the worst thing that's ever happened.

GK: Yeah, I've spoken to a lot of older people here to find out their thoughts on the rain and they say they've never seen it in their lifetime, and this is by far the worst disaster that I know of happening in the Solomons' in decades, absolute decades, because the infrastructure has been destroyed here in the city, sewage lines are all broken from landslides or fallen trees, powerlines are down, I haven't had electricity for 3 days, and the roads are just a mess, some of the potholes, you could fit a car in some of them, bridges are washed away, so you know, it's a multi million dollars infrastructure repair job which is going to take many years.

DW: In terms of the international support that will be required, has the government been specific?

GK: They are particularly concerned about getting these people that are in the evacuation centres - most of them are schools, they want to get most of these people some sort of shelter so they can get out of there. Most of the people, the 12,000 people in Honiara that are in evacuation centres left with absolutely nothing. So they've now been two days with very little food and very little water, poor sanitation conditions and just with the wet clothes they escaped from their houses in, so it's a pretty dire situation.

DW: And with the airport out, it's going to be difficult to get stuff in.

GK: Yeah, I believe they are trying to clear the debris from the runway today so they can possibly get aid flights in. There is a major risk of a health outbreak here because prior to the flooding, dengue fever was starting to expand here, well they think dengue fever will skyrocket once the place starts to dry out and the mosquitoes can come out. It is a major issue, Save the Children have every intention of trying to get some health assistance to support the government."