18 Mar 2015

Aid being distributed in Vanuatu

9:24 pm on 18 March 2015

The charity Save The Children in Vanuatu says it has begun distributing relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Pam.

Evan Schuurman says his organisation has been giving basic food supplies, such as noodles, rice and oil to people in evacuation centres in and around the capital, Port Vila.

Save the Children has begun distributing relief supplies to evacuation centres around Port Vila

Save the Children has begun distributing relief supplies to evacuation centres around Port Vila Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

He says aid is being given to about 2,000 people who have lost their homes.

"Save The Children has already begun distributing food within evacuation centres within Port Vila as well some areas outside the city and we are doing this with the support of the government of Vanuatu."

Earlier disaster management authorities said aid will only be given once assessments are completed.

Aid agencies and Vanuatu government officials have been meeting in Port Vila to discuss how to distribute relief to the country's outer islands.

Red Cross workers waiting to distribute aid in Port Vila, Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

Red Cross workers waiting to distribute aid in Port Vila, Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

The Government in Vanuatu has come under fire for taking control of the distribution of aid in the wake of Cyclone Pam. Vanuatu's northern islands were the first to be hit by Cyclone Pam but five days later, many have still not got aid.

There have been reports that people on one island have resorted to drinking harmful saltwater as they wait for help. Residents on Moso Island, off the coast of the main island of Efate, have told the BBC they are still waiting for outside assistance.

But aid agency Unicef defended the Vanuatu government's response to the Cyclone Pam disaster, saying the decision to assess need before distributing aid was the right one.

Spokesperson Alice Clements from Unicef said the government knows what it was doing.

"The government's calculations are that people can hold on for about a week. And the amount they have achieved they have achieved in the short space of time is quite frankly spectacular.

"They're getting back infrastructure up and running, they've done all their assessments, they are now just faced with this huge logistical challenge of getting life-saving aid to people in up to 65 inhabited islands here."

Debris from Pam Cyclone on the Port Vila waterfront

Debris from Pam Cyclone on the Port Vila waterfront Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker-Wilson

The National Disaster Management Office said it was still in the process of finding out exactly what supplies it has and who needed them.

Spokesperson Benjamin Shing said the despatch of aid supplies had been delayed after violence broke out in Port Vila over unequal distribution.

"It's not the violence itself that is the problem, it's the social problem that's going to come after that because it causes tensions in communities in which they live."

Mr Shing said the government wanted to avoid any further conflict and was coordinating supplies from various agencies to make sure enough was sent to those in need.

This would ensure staff would not have to prioritise who received aid and would prevent long-term social tension in communities, he said.

Meanwhile, Vanuatu's president has returned home after being in Japan when the cyclone struck.

Baldwin Lonsdale had tears in his eyes when he spoke to media and expressed his sorrow to the victims of the storm but noted their resilience.

"Well I trust the people in Vanuatu. I trust my government. I trust the people that they will stand together as a nation and rebuild the nation."

Port Vila before and after the cyclone.

Port Vila before and after the cyclone. Photo: AFP / Digital Globe

Radio New Zealand International's reporter in Port Vila Koroi Hawkins said the government was trying to manage how agencies delivered supplies, leading to a bizarre situation where aid was coming in and being stored in warehouses.

"It's a remarkable stituation where the NGOs aren't allowed to go in and just distribute the supplies," he told Morning Report.

He said local media were asking when the supplies are going to reach the northern islands which were the first to be hit by the cyclone.

Save the Children spokesperson in Port Vila Sally Page said agencies had managed to make some deliveries but were hoping to begin a full response later today.

She told Morning Report the charity had delivered water an food to an outer island of 900 people yesterday, and tomorrow would be taking a helicopter to drop aid to an outer island.

Port Vila street after Cyclone Pam

Residents of Port Vila clean up after the cyclone. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker-Wilson

UN revises down death toll

The United Nations said the official death toll from the cyclone was 11, revising down its earlier figure of 24, but many officials anticipate that number would rise once they are able thoroughly assess all the outer islands.

Up to 70 percent of the nation's people have been displaced, and telecommunications, power and water supplies have all been badly affected by Cyclone Pam.

The International Federation of the Red Cross has started an emergency appeal for $5 million to help the victims of Cyclone Pam. The aid agency said people there are desperate for water, food, and safe shelter in the wake of the category five cyclone.

A Red Cross spokesperson said the agency was particularly concerned for the safety and wellbeing of people in the more remote regions.

The Australian government is providing medical assistance and urban search and rescue capability. A team of 54 search and rescue personnel will help clean up and repair the Port Vila Hospital complex. The medical team of seven will be boosted by another 20 medical personnel.

New Zealand aid resumes

The air force resumed flying to Vanuatu today.

Yesterday two flights taking aid supplies had to turn back because of technical problems.

The Defence Force said a Hercules left Auckland just before 8am this morning carrying military personnel.

It said that was the only scheduled departure for today.

There have already been three Air Force flights to Vanuatu, delivering about 32,000 kilograms of aid supplies and 42 aid workers.

Tahiti looks to help

The French Polynesian government has indicated it wants to give Vanuatu cyclone victims 90,000 US dollars worth of materials.

This was decided at an extraordinary government meeting in Papeete - the planned donation was to be approved by the territorial assembly.