20 Mar 2015

Vanuatu PM: "Please provide food"

10:34 pm on 20 March 2015

Vanuatu's Prime Minister, Joe Natuman, says the government will struggle to feed its people over the coming months as the recovery operation after Cyclone Pam gets underway.

Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman

Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

At a news conference on Friday evening, Mr Natuman made a direct appeal for food aid to be given to the cyclone-ravaged country.

"Right now I want to insist that any development partners who want to assist in the longer term to please provide food. The Government doesn't have enough money for the next three months so I want to insist that right now that what we need for the longer term is food supply, we have to have enough food to feed the people."

He also announced that a rapid assessment report had been completed and agreed to by aid agencies, which means major relief supplies -- including shelter -- will be distributed around the country from Saturday.

The government has also approved the purchase of rice, tinned meats and fish, and noodles to be given out, and has also bought seedlings to distribute with aid.

However, Mr Natuman said the government did not have enough money to feed people over the next three months.

Mr Natuman said 165,000 people were thought to have been affected by cyclone, and that there was a lack of clean drinking water, food, and shelter on many islands.

Mr Natuman said help that is ready from aid agencies will be prioritised toward the most affected islands first.

Three more fatalities were also reported in the Shepherd Islands group, north of the main island, Efate.

On the ground, the distribution of much-needed relief aid had already started, nearly a week after the category five Cyclone Pam barrelled through the country from north to south, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Volunteers in Vanuatu store donated goods after Cyclone Pam.

Volunteers in Vanuatu store donated goods after Cyclone Pam. Photo: RNZ

UNICEF said it had distributed supplies to parts of Tanna Island, and another ferry with supplies will leave Port Vila for the Shepherd Islands tomorrow.

In the capital, Port Vila on Thursday night, bus-loads of rice, tinned meat, noodles and toilet paper were delivered to evacuation centres in and around the town.

Vanuatu's government has confirmed it has been having logistical problems distributing the aid and is waiting on navy ships from France, Australia and New Zealand to help distribute the supplies to outer islands.

Government aims for aid delivery cohesion

Volunteers - including RNZI's Koroi Hawkins - help fill water ahead of an aid mission to Vanuatu's Shepherd Islands.

Volunteers - including RNZI's Koroi Hawkins - help fill water ahead of an aid mission to Vanuatu's Shepherd Islands. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

The government has been criticised in some quarters for taking control of the distribution of aid, and for slow delivery of aid.

However a release from the office of Vanuatu's Prime Minister Joe Natuman, said it was aiming for the most efficient aid approach.

It said this meant that assistance from overseas was best directed through the government agencies handling the disaster response.

Damage assessment has been conducted and the data is being collated by the National Disaster Management Office to inform distribution of aid.

The government said it was determining what was needed and co-ordinating aid donors.

The spokesperson for the prime minister said the government was hoping that the impending arrival of several navy ships will help solve logistical problems in getting aid to the worst-hit outer islands.

Kiery Manasseh said a key factor was the need to amass enough aid to allow it to go out at once and for all victims to benefit from it.

"Those boats will come in and help Vanuatu deliver all the relief that we're stocking at the moment," said Mr Manasseh. "As I say, the government is not deliberately delaying the delivery of assistance."

New Zealand was preparing to send defence personnel, engineering equipment and other recovery supplies on Navy ship Canterbury, which would leave for Vanuatu on Sunday.

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

Aid agency works closely with government

Alice Clements of the aid organisation UNICEF said the government knows what it is doing and knows where it is going.

"The information that they've been collecting has really allowed us to target the aid to people who need it most."

She said for instance on Tanna the estimates were that seventy to eighty percent of the population was displaced; one hundred percent of food crops were destroyed; and schools, the hospital and other facilities were badly damaged.

"I went to a school that had six out of ten classrooms destroyed," she said, "so it really is allowing us to make sure that we get the precise amount of supplies to the people who need it, and get it to them all in one go."

Ferries were being co-ordinated to deliver aid with air links to be provided to provincial capitals and then onto outlying villages.

Ms Clements said the government needed to ensure fairness in aid distribution "because supplies are limited but also because the government cares deeply about fairness."

Going outside of the government aid delivery process was fraught with risks, she explained.

"If you deliver twenty percent of the supplies needed to a community and a hundred percent of them need it, you're going to cause conflict and tension because there's going to be people who miss out, and that's not fair."

Enough crops for short term

Kiery Manasseh, said people had enough crops to sustain them for the short term.

"With the yam season at present, usually yams can last for a number of days, so the government is banking on the people to be using those until relief supplies reach them."

But a Vanuatu agriculture expert, Vincent Lebot felt the country's fragile food security had been exposed by extensive damage to staple food crops from Cyclone Pam.

Aid arriving in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Aid arriving in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

More foreign support

Aid supplies and logistical support continued to be flown in to Vanuatu from partner countries.

The French president, Francois Hollande, has announced that aid to Vanuatu would be stepped up in the coming days to help the country recover from Cyclone Pam.

French civilian and military authorities have already sent aircraft and personnel from New Caledonia to Tanna and Erromango.

The Red Cross and the New Caledonian group, Solidarity Tanna, have managed to get relief supplies onto the frigate Vendemiaire bound for the disaster zone.

The effort is being supplemented by civil security staff from French Polynesia and a 14-strong medical team is due in Tanna today, bringing additional supplies.

Australia clears asbestos at hospital

Vanuatu's main hospital, Port Vila Central, was badly damaged by the cyclone.

However, Australia has been building a mobile hospital at the Vila Hospital site to cater for patients until the permanent structure is rehabilitated.

Damaged wards at Port Vila Central Hospital.

Damaged wards at Port Vila Central Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Additionally, Australian experts have removed more than 100 kilogrammes of asbestos from the section of Vila Hospital .

Gary Bailey of the Urban Search and Rescue team said they used a spray-on glue to bind the asbestos before wrapping it up for disposal.

"When it has been broken up in the way it has by the storm, the fibres that come off the asbestos are very dangerous to human beings and they can cause some very serious diseases," he said.

"So we need to clear it as best we can. The glue allows us to bond so the fibres can't get away and that basically renders the asbestos safe."

Gary Bailey said his team also cleaned up inside the hospital.

Meanwhile, five young international volunteers have been evacuated from Vanuatu's Pentecost Island with further evacuations to come.

Australian officials evacuated the group comprising of two Australians, one new Zealander, and two British volunteers by helicopter yesterday.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said eight volunteers remain on the island but would be moved today.

Mud coats Mele village

A village on the outskirts of Port Vila is asking the authorities to remove more than a metre of mud that is covering its land.

6,000 people live in Mele and community leaders say the mud and heat are creating an unbearable smell.

The chairman of Area Council, Kalpeau Vatoko, says people have tried to remove the mud in vain and because of its depth, heavy equipment is needed.

"They have to dig up the mud from the road and also the houses. At the moment the sun is high and the smell is getting to people and the smell is very bad. We have reported this to the provincial disaster committee and they have taken up the matter with the NDMO."

Damage at the harbour in Port Vila, Vanuatu, after Cyclone Pam.

Damage at the harbour in Port Vila, Vanuatu, after Cyclone Pam. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

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