"These real life heroes deserve our gratitude every single day," were the words of Fiji’s Minister of Rural & Maritime Development & Disaster Management, Inia Seruiratu at World Humanitarian Day celebrations in Suva yesterday.
The selfless efforts of humanitarians and medical front line workers were acknowledged at the celebrations.
Minister Seruiratu underlined the seriousness of COVID-19 containment efforts and the continuing impacts of climate change on Fijian communities and local humanitarian workers.
“In the case of Fiji, given the ever present threat of COVID-19, I ask our people to celebrate this World Humanitarian Day by thinking seriously about how each of us can keep our people safe from this pandemic,” he said.
United Nations Resident Coordinator, Sanaka Samarasinha echoed his comments.
“We can never go back to life the way it used to be…” Samarasinha stated. “Continuing to live our lives the way we did before will only lead to expansion of crises.”
The current global pandemic continues to affect humanitarian approaches by aid workers and front liners around the world, and the Pacific is no exception.
The Fiji Red Cross Society recognised its 700 volunteers for their selfless efforts and perservence during theTropical Cyclone Harold response and COVID-19 lockdown.
Fiji Red Cross Society Director, Ilisapeci Rokotunidau said despite undergoing three cyclones, a measles outbreak and the current pandemic, volunteers still conduct their duties with a 'glimmer in their eyes'.
The theme for this year’s celebrations was #RealLifeHeroes and Fiji's Natural Disaster Management Office profiled some 50 real life heroes of the region.
Clean up efforts are already underway in Vanuatu and Fiji, parts of which were hit by Cyclone Harold this week.
In Vanuatu the first reports have emerged of the category-five storm's destruction in Vanuatu.
Communication lines have been restored to the hardest-hit regions of Vanuatu on Wednesday, two days after Cyclone Harold made landfall.
The islands of Espiritu Santo, Malo and Pentecost were blasted by torrential rain and winds above 235km/h in the storm, which travelled directly over Luganville, the country's second biggest settlement.
Amid the devastation, there are no reports of loss of life.
Locals and relief agencies will now begin a damage assessment and provision of immediate needs.
Save The Children country director Luke Ebbs, based in Port Vila, said the "scale of damage is immense".
“Water tanks knocked over, boats blown out of the water, trees stripped of their leaves and lots of roofs blown off,” he said.
“Right now there are very pressing needs for temporary shelter, food, water and basic hygiene items like soap, buckets and water containers.
“Many families we spoke to have lost almost everything, and they urgently need humanitarian assistance.”
New Zealand has sent a surveillance plane to Vanuatu to help with this task and pledged an initial NZ$500,000 (US$300,000) towards relief.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Harold had “caused major damage to homes, public buildings, infrastructure, telecommunications networks and crops”.
The storm formed near the Solomon Islands, where 27 people were reportedly thrown overboard and killed when a packed ferry headed off into dicey waters.
Writing on the DevPolicy blog today, Dr Transform Aquora says: “The ship was transporting Honiara residents seeking refuge from COVID-19 (at the advice of government) in the village at West Are Are, one of the Districts in Malaita Province. The casualties include the wife, three sons, and brother of a Deputy Principal of one of Solomon Islands’ national secondary schools. This is deeply shocking and sad for the country. Those who lost their life were innocent Solomon Islanders simply escaping the likely breakout of COVID-19 in Honiara.”
In Fiji, the director of the National Management Office (NDMO), Vasiti Soko, says “We’ve seen reports of injuries.
“As to the number, as well as the intensity, of the injuries, that’s yet to be ascertained.”
There were no immediate reports of deaths, but about 10 houses in Suva were reported destroyed, Soko added.
The Lord Mayor of Luganville town in Vanuatu, Peter Patty says his biggest fear now is how they can rebuild as Cyclone Harold is already causing devastating damage in the northern town.
The Category 5 Tropical Cyclone couldn’t come at a worst time for Vanuatu, as it braces for the COVID-19 pandemic.
More people in the northern parts of Vanuatu and Santo in particular are moving to evacuation centres as TC Harold has increased in intensity, with sustained winds close to its centre of 215km/h according to the Vanuatu Meteorology Service.
Speaking to Island Business this morning, Lord Mayor Patty says people living around the Pepsi area have lost their homes to flooding and two evacuation centres are already full, with plans to open more.
“My biggest fear now is how can we rebuild and revive businesses back to normal.
“This is one of the worst crises— to experience a cyclone in the middle of a pandemic that we have yet to recover from.”
While Vanuatu has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, precautionary measures have closed its ports and businesses.
Mayor Patty says all businesses in the town has been shut since Friday, after advice and warnings from the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department (VMGD).
While the national State of Emergency conditions due to COVID-19 pandemic remain in place, the unpredictable intensity of TC Harold has forced the Government to remove the limit on social gatherings to five or less people, as many people will be expected to assemble together in evacuation centers.
Abraham Nasak director of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) in Vanuatu announced yesterday that the rule on social gatherings has been removed and advised people to move to safer shelters, given that the rule of 5 in social gatherings has been lifted.
The Pacifica Weather & Tropical cyclone updates reported this morning that the eye of the Category 5 severe Tropical Cyclone Harold is just offshore to the West of Espiritu Santo.
Reports from a family at Nakere Village on South Santo revealed that the whole village has moved to an evacuation centre in a nearby school.
Kensly Micah from the NDMO on Santo says they all they can do is stay indoors and try to stay safe.
“We could not contact officers from different area councils around Sanma Province at this point of time.
“This is unpredicted and I must say there was less preparations as to how we can prepare for a tropical cyclone because much focus was on COVID-19,” Micah said.
The VMGD continues to release early warnings and red alert remains for Sanma Province, Penama, and Malampa.
Tuvalu looks set to declare a state of emergency due to the level of destruction caused by Tropical Cyclone Tino last week.
A full assessment of the extent of damage is still unclear, however reports emerged as TC Tino passed of waves innundating the island. It's reported up to 50 percent of the population may have been affected.
Earlier this week the Papua New Guinea government pledged K3 million (US$87,000) to help Tuvalu and Fiji recover from TC Tino.
Prior to the arrival of Tino, The Red Cross in Tuvalu said it's volunteers had responded to more than 100 houses and have distributed tarps and blankets. They were still fielding requests, but were running low on supplies.
There is particular concern over food supplies and infrastructure in the wake of the cyclone.
Fiji and Tonga also suffered some damage as a result of TC Tino.
Vanuatu’s northern and central regions have been warned to expect heavy rain and flash flooding as a severe weather system closes in from the north-west.
Isolated heavy rainfall with thunder and winds of up to 46 kilometres per hour can be expected over northern and central Vanuatu.
“People in these areas are advised to take precautions as flash flooding may take place near rivers and in low-lying areas,” an advisory from the Vanuatu Meteorology Service said.
The system is about 600km from the capital, Vila, but just north of Santo.
Meanwhile, the Fiji Meteorological Service has advised that Tropical Disturbance 04F (1000HPA) has been located around 13.6 South 166.6 East – about 1200km northwest of Nadi – around noon today (Tuesday).
The system has been described as slow-moving and chances of it developing into a cyclone over the next 24-48 hours are moderate.
But Fiji has been warned to expect heavy rain from tomorrow.