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Vanuatu needs our prayers – and our funds

NEWS | Anne Lim

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Immediate practical help is the most urgent need for Vanuatu in the shocking aftermath of Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which tore through Vanuatu with winds of up to 320km an hour last Friday, 13 March.

The Act for Peace team in Port Vila says that while prayers are needed for a shaken community, generous donations are the most pressing need, with estimates of up to 90 per cent of buildings destroyed, leaving thousands homeless and vulnerable, with no access to food, water or shelter.

Cyclone Pam was one of the biggest and most deadly storms to hit Vanuatu, with at least 11 confirmed fatalities.

“When I arrived into Port Vila, the destruction was unbelievable. Trees had snapped like twigs; building material was everywhere,” said Geoff Robinson, Act for Peace’s Risk Resilience Manager, who is based in Port Vila but was in Fiji when the storm hit. “It was worse than I have ever seen in my 15 years of disaster risk reduction.”

Photo: Michael McLennan

Photo: Michael McLennan

Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia, with its local partner in Vanuatu are working to help get aid out immediately to those most at risk. “The highest needs right now are water, food and shelter, and once we respond to this we will look to build the plan for long-term relief efforts,” Robinson said.

“The one thing we know for sure is that without the immediate help of the Australian and international community we won’t be able to help everyone. We are worried that within a few days people will be reliant on aid to survive and we need the support to be able to deliver this aid.”

He estimated that more than 150,000 people had been affected by the cyclone. Act for Peace had turned to its international arm, ACT Alliance, for support in tackling the challenges of the response effort, such as lack of funds, difficult logistics and lack of communication with the islands.

“We are trying to establish communication with 65 inhabited islands, but it is very difficult. We are fearing the worst on some of the islands as their houses and community structures are built from bamboo and materials that would most likely have been destroyed,” Robinson said.

“The response effort is one of the most challenging we have ever faced and aid will be difficult to distribute to the outlying islands of Vanuatu. The death toll is likely to rise as rescuers reach remote islands. Thousands have been left homeless and are in an extremely vulnerable state with no access to clean water, shelter or food.”

Robinson added that the long-term rebuilding process would take years, with thousands of homes and basic infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and roads needing to be fixed or rebuilt. “Act for Peace will be involved in the long-term re-establishment of livelihoods, access to fresh water and building of evacuation centres.”

Robinson appealed for donations to ensure that no further lives are lost. “The most important thing that the international Christian community can do is donate,” he said. “Vanuatu needs our prayers but right now they also need urgent funds to provide water, food and shelter. We appreciate any assistance that people can spare for this community that has been left with close to nothing.”

To donate, call 1800 025 101 or go to www.actforpeace.org.au/cyclonepam

The Presbyterian Church of Australia, which has strong links with the church in Vanuatu, as also launched a Disaster Relief Appeal. Moderator-General David Cook has urged all Ministers and Sessions to bring before all congregations the need for prayer and practical help for those who have lost family and homes. http://www.apwm.org.au/2015/03/2722/

The Talua Ministry Training Centre on Espiritu Santo, about 300km north of Port Vila, which is supported by the Presbyterian Church, remains intact and there are no reports or injury or loss of life.

By contrast, Tanna, almost 100km south of Port Vila, where Cyclone Pam made its first landfall, has been flattened, according to Vanuatu Red Cross, which made a breakthrough in communication with the island.

“Schools and concrete homes across Tanna are destroyed,” said Peter Lawther, a Red Cross shelter specialist. “Shelter, along with water and food, remain a top priority. We are working on getting help there as quickly as possible.”

More than 100 Red Cross staff and volunteers are working to distribute aid and provide critical health care – hygiene kits, tarpaulins, blankets, water containers, shelter kits, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, buckets and aqua tabs – across Vanuatu. In Port Vila, 40 volunteers are working alongside authorities in the 26 evacuation centres.

“Homes have been lost, crops are destroyed. The damage is enormous, and people need our help,” said Aurélia Balpe, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Pacific. “As always, we will do our best to meet the needs of everyone affected. We may not know everything now, but we will prepare for the worst”.

For updates see: www.ifrc.org.

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