1 Mar 2016

Winston causes US$20m damage to Fiji's schools

2:36 pm on 1 March 2016

Cyclone Winston which hit Fiji nine days ago has caused an estimated US$19.4 million worth of damage to schools throughout the country.

Children in the Nadalei evacuation centre - the Catholic School classrooms - on 26 February 2016.

Children in the Nadalei evacuation centre - the Catholic School classrooms - on 26 February 2016. Photo: RNZ / Alex Perrottet

The Fiji Times reports the amount is expected to rise as assessments are still being carried out.

About 240 schools have been reported damaged or completely destroyed.

The paper reports damage to the agriculture sector is estimated at US$47.5 million.

The government has estimated a total damage bill of US$465 million.

Meanwhile, aid workers in Fiji have praised the government for the "colossal" effort to open more than 1000 schools yesterday.

UNICEF spokesperson Alice Clements said with so many schools partially or completely damaged, the government had asked her organisation for "School in a Box" kits, with each one holding a tent and materials for a class of 40.

She said children would need ongoing support and it was vital to get them straight back into routines.

"The importance of this really can't be overstated," she said.

"We have decades of experience now that proves that getting kids back into school as quickly as possible is the fastest way to help them recover emotionally, it's the fastest way to keep them safe and it's the best way to support recovery efforts overall."

Ms Clements said UNICEF had "pre-positioned" supplies in Fiji before the cyclone, and was now replenishing them from Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and flying more in from Denmark.

They included water purification kits, sanitary pads and soap and hygiene kits.

Kids in Fiji need to talk, work and play - Save the Children

Save the Children New Zealand child and family psychologist Melanie Patterson said the children would need to talk about their nightmarish memories from Cyclone Winston in order to recover.

Ms Patterson did a tour around the country and heard stories from young children, including two who were thrown out the front windows of their house as it fell forward. In Raviravi village, dozens of kids tore up floorboards in a classroom and sheltered underneath for hours.

These children would only recover and be ready to talk when they were back in a familiar routine and playing again with their peers, she said.

"So being with a group of other children, playing games, being children. We know that children, they process events through play, that is how they learn but it is also how they make sense of the world around them."

Ms Patterson said Save the Children had offered the Fiji government help to restock all kindergartens with arts and craft materials and toys.

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