27 Mar 2015

Vanuatu food situation 'critical'

8:04 am on 27 March 2015

The Vanuatu Government says relief aid has now reached all of the nation's islands since Cyclone Pam struck two weeks ago.

However, our reporter Koroi Hawkins, who is on Erromango, says the food situation on many islands is criticial.

Shell-shock - Cyclone Pam didn't leave much on the roof of this school on Erromango Island.

Cyclone Pam damage on Erromango Island. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

He says the villages in Dillon's Bay, Port Narvin and Cooks Bay have waited two weeks for relief assistance but none has come.

The chiefs told him they have food enough for only a few more days.

"The National Disaster Management Office keeps saying relief is getting out but I am yet to see evidence of that in any of the villages or islands I have been visiting.

"Everyone has been affected, and it's not enough to drop off a few sacks of rice and tick that village off a list."

There were thousands of men, women and children scattered in the little villages across Vanuatu, and for all food and water have become not a matter of relief, but of survival, he says.

Government assurances

The Vanuatu government said today the wait for aid was expected to end today, two weeks after Cyclone Pam struck.

Government spokesperson Kiery Manassah says supplies were dropped at Tanna island yesterday, and the boat would deliver aid to Erromango today, before returning to Port Vila.

Mr Manassah says they have enough supplies to last a couple of weeks, but were appealing for another US$30 million from other countries.

Island feels abandoned

A resident of Erromango says the community feels abandoned and they desperately need food and drinking water.

Helen Naupa of Williams Bay says a Government team arrived on the island in Tafea province two weeks ago to assess the damage but has not yet sent relief supplies.

Ms Naupa says the lack of government help is disgraceful.

She says the community is facing very difficult times, with many people homeless, a lack of clean water and food crops being completely destroyed.

"People here don't work for money, they don't earn money, they're all dependent on root crops only and that has been destroyed.

"People here are hungry. They need food. We need food from the Government of Vanuatu and sadly we are not receiving anything as of yet."

Helen Naupa says it will take a year for food crops to be re-established, and is urging international donors to send more aid.

Erromango, Vanuatu

Erromango, Vanuatu Photo: Koroi Hawkins RNZI

A non-government organisation says there are also issues about the amount of food being distributed.

Chair of Women against Crime and Corruption Jenny Ligo says the Government is not sticking to the typical UN food ratio of half a kilogramme of food per person per day.

She says she has seen one woman with a family of 11, only given enough to feed four.

Ms Ligo also says people on Efate are given half the rations of those on the outer islands when the need can be similar.

"In Port Vila they said we have access to the shop but if even an employed person doesn't have money he or she cannot have access to the shop because she cannot go to the shop and get something when she or he doesn't have the money."

Meanwhile, UNICEF says Vanuatu is in critical need of more aid to support children and families over the next three months.

Spokesperson Alice Clements says international donors have been very generous but the challenge now is to ensure there's enough aid to last in the medium-term.

She says the people of Vanuatu's ongoing needs must not be forgotten by the international community.

"The challenge is now of course is that we have at least three months where there is a period of extreme need for communities that literally don't have food or water or shelter. Especially with all the crops that have been destroyed ... people won't have a food source because they're very dependent on their kitchen gardens."

More help arrives

The New Zealand naval ship HMNZS Canterbury arrived in Vanuatu yesterday carrying food, water, emergency supplies and about 200 personnel.

The Save the Children organisation says they've met with the HMNZS Canterbury to discuss how they will work together.

The Vanuatu director Tom Skirrow says their collaborative efforts will be very effective.

"They've got significant assets that we don't have in terms if their helicopters, their barges, their boat, their desalanation capacity to provide fresh water. I was talking to them yesterday, I will continue to talk to them so that we can coordinate and use the best of our skills together."

The HMNZS will be based on the Island of Epi and the surrounding islands in the Shefa province.

Food aid gets to Vanuatu victims of Cyclone Pam

Food aid is getting to some victims of Cyclone Pam Photo: AFP

Better communications needed

A Ni-Vanuatu elder on Erromango island in Tafea province is calling on the government to install HF radios in villages across Vanuatu.

Dick Mete from Dillion's Bay says his village has not had any communications since Cyclone Pam hit, and they don't know what's happening around the country.

Mr Mete says if villages had HF radios there would be no break in communications which has been the case across most of Vanuatu in the wake of Pam.

"They are very small but they are very helpful in times of need, especially emergencies," he said.

"Because we use the aerial, when the weather is high or the wind is blowing very hard. We have to release those wires and keep the radio safe until the next time when the wind is down we can hand those wires and then talk again."

MSG discusses aid delivery

The Melanesian Spearhead Group foreign ministers have gathered in Port Vila to discuss urgent relief assistance to Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam.

The chair, Caroline Machoro-Reignier, says MSG members must consider the best way forward in terms of immediate relief assistance, and also to help with long-term recovery.

Left to Right: Fiji foreign minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola; Vanuatu foreign minister, Sato Kilman Livtunvanu; MSG Foreign Ministers Meeting Chairlady, Madam Caroline Machoro-Reignier; PNG foreign minister, Rimbink Pato; and Solomon Islands foreign minister, Milner Tozaka.

Left to Right: Fiji foreign minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola; Vanuatu foreign minister, Sato Kilman Livtunvanu; MSG Foreign Ministers Meeting Chairlady, Madam Caroline Machoro-Reignier; PNG foreign minister, Rimbink Pato; and Solomon Islands foreign minister, Milner Tozaka. Photo: SUPPLED

Ms Machoro-Reignier says MSG countries must provide support to help the people rebuild their homes and lives, help the Vanuatu government to get the country back on its feet and reboot the economy.

She said the people of Vanuatu have been remarkably resilient.

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