Vanuatu ‘still struggling’ with cyclone aftermath

Distribution of household and hygiene kits at Teouma.

Save the Children says about half of Vanuatu’s population is still struggling to access safe drinking water and nutritious food in the wake of the Category Four cyclones Judy and Kevin, which hit the island nation in early March, destroying crops, homes and vital infrastructure such as roads and schools.

In the hardest-hit provinces of Shefa and Tafea, 90% of homes were damaged, impacting more than 123,000 people (almost 25,000 households).

It said new health issues are emerging across the country, such as water borne diseases and other infections including gastroenteritis and ringworm, due to a lack of safe drinking water, fresh food and adequate sanitation.

Children’s education is also facing continued disruption, with 100 classrooms needing reconstruction, while recent heavy rainfall hitting already damaged homes has driven some children and their families back to evacuation centres for support.

Noa, 11, whose home was damaged by Cyclone Kevin, said: “Our gardens no longer have food. Banana trees with fruits all fell down, but we still harvest and eat them. Our water sources have been contaminated with dirt and leaves making it unsuitable to drink. Apart from the fallen bananas that we harvest and eat, we also collect cabbage but that is drying up really fast.”

Noa’s mother Emele said that when Cyclone Kevin hit, part of the roof was pulled off their house and the family had to flee for safety.

“Our water supplies were damaged. We use river water; our tank water is undrinkable because it was contaminated with dirt and leaves. But we have no choice and continue using the water,” she said.

“Our food in the garden like cassava have rotted, and banana trees have fallen. We are still eating and surviving on the bananas left over by the cyclones. This is the only thing keeping us from going hungry.”

As part of its support for the community, Save the Children has helped the family establish a temporary fix for their home with the provision of a tarp and other supplies such as blankets and tools for the garden. A Child Friendly Space has also been set up, giving Emele’s three children a safe place to go to.

“This makes the kids very happy to be able to meet and have fun and games. This helps to make the children less stressed and worried by the impacts of the cyclones,” Emele said.

Save the Children Vanuatu Acting Country Director Jack French said as the country moves towards the early recovery stage of the disaster, it was vital that Vanuatu remained top of mind for the international community.

“The crisis is continuing to unfold. As families struggle to access fresh food and water, children are at risk of malnutrition and other serious health issues such as skin infections, waterborne or mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.

“This is going to be a long recovery. The international response to meet the immediate humanitarian needs has been strong, but what comes next really matters,” he said.

“Children and their families in Vanuatu are living on the frontline of climate change and while they are showing incredible resilience in the face of these climate emergencies, it is vital that we support their efforts with meaningful action on climate change and a commitment to mitigation and adaptation strategies.”

So far, Save the Children has reached around 1,500 people with shelter, household and hygiene kits and helped 1,000 children return to school safely with temporary learning centres and materials. It has also assisted with bringing health experts into impacted communities, and around 300 children have also attended their Child Friendly Spaces. The organisation now aims to launch a cash programme for impacted families to get back on their feet quickly following the devastating events.