18 Jan 2009

Flood damage hampers relief efforts in Fiji

5:52 pm on 18 January 2009

Damaged roads in Fiji are still delaying some relief efforts to the flood-stricken Pacific Island nation.

Thousands of people are homeless after two weeks of heavy rain and flooding in which at least 11 people have been killed.

Fiji's Meteorological Service on Sunday predicted several days of fine weather for Nadi, providing some respite for the damaged town on the main island Viti Levu.

Forecaster Misa Funaki says the rain band has moved south and there will be clear skies over Nadi for at least the next three days.

The number of people at the 171 evacuation centres Fiji-wide has dropped from 11,000 to just over 9,000.

The Central Director of Fiji's National Disaster Management Office Joeli Cawaki says people have moved back to their homes to clean up as the weather has improved over the past few days.

However, he says a lot of people living in low lying areas are still afraid to go home in case weather conditions change.

A Red Cross disaster coordinator, Vuli Gauna, says efforts are focusing on Nadi and another town in the west, Ba.

However, he says what is usually a 40-minute trip from Nadi to Lautoka is taking three hours due to bad roads. Volunteers are also trying to reach more remote communities.

The Red Cross plans to start distributing hygiene packs on Monday to help battle the threat of water borne diseases such as typhoid.

Koli Ulakia, a divisional co-ordinator for the Red Cross, says a helicopter trip across the affected areas on Saturday revealed broken bridges and landslides.

Food producing regions and forestry areas have been hit hard, with root crops particularly affected.

NZ provides aid

Aid groups say they have been overwhelmed by New Zealand's response to the floods.

Auckland-based Hindi station Radio Tarana is running a collection drive to send items including food, clothes, linen and health and education supplies to Fiji.

The station's managing director, Robert Khan, says it originally planned to ship about five containers of goods but now estimates up to 18 containers will be sent.

Mr Khan says the drive will continue next Saturday, with the focus on school stationery.

The New Zealand Red Cross says it has collected hundreds of monetary donations in the past week for aid relief in Fiji and donations will be given to the Fiji Red Cross.

Meanwhile, the interim Fiji government has thanked New Zealand for its further financial contribution to the relief effort.

New Zealand's contribution has increased to $600,000, with the Government announcing an additional $500,000 assistance on Friday.

The Government says the additional funds will be assigned to aid organisations and be targeted to specific areas. It will not go to the military government.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says $300,000 will go toward supplying urgently needed items - in particular, water tanks and containers, purification tablets and rehydration salts.

Mr McCully says the Government will consider further requests for assistance from Fiji as more detailed assessments come in.

Cost of clean-up

The cost of the flooding continues to rise as a clean-up in Fiji begins. About 300 businesses have been ruined.

Some estimates of damage in Nadi alone are $200 million and there are calls to bulldoze the town and start again. There are also calls to relocate some villages to higher ground.

But the mayor of Nadi says people must wait to see what government and international assistance will come before considering such drastic options.

The sugar cane industry has been decimated. Thousands of acres of cane have been destroyed and the Cane Growers Association says the industry will take years to recover.

The industry is second only to tourism as Fiji's biggest industry. It brings in more than $US250 million annually. Most of the three million tonnes crushed annually is sold to markets in the European Union.

Floods delay UN/Commonwealth visit

The planned United Nations/Commonwealth trip to Fiji has been postponed because of the flooding crisis.

The joint mission was to be in Fiji from 19 January to 23 January, as part of international efforts to help Fiji return to democracy following the 2006 military coup. New dates for the visit have not been set.