On Saturday 14th March Cyclone Pam unexpectedly hit an archipelago called Vanuatu. The Republic of Vanuatu is a Y shaped group of islands located in the South Pacific Ocean, it is one of the world’s poorest nations and is 1,750 kilometres east of northern Australia.
The cyclone hit the main island, Efate, along with some other more southerly islands including Erromango and Tanna. The President, Baldwin Lonsdale, said the storm has “wiped out” all development his country had achieved in recent years and “everything” will now have to be rebuilt.
It has caused severe food and housing issues – it has been reported that 80% of homes have been completely or partially destroyed. Local officials from Port Villa say that most of the homes in the capital have been severely damaged or destroyed and bridges have been broken, making travelling around the island impossible.
Fortunately, the airport in Port Villa has reopened which now means that relief flights can reach the country. Accessing those who are stranded is very difficult due to the remoteness of the islands, for this reason that the death count, currently standing at eleven, is expected to rise.
President Lonsdale appealed for international help at a disaster preparedness conference in Japan saying, “The humanitarian need is immediate, we need it right now.” Planes have taken food, water and medical supplies but charities say that a lot more aid will be needed in the coming weeks. Food and water are in very short supply due to either storage being damaged or the food growing on the land being swept away by the intense wind speeds.
The one positive however, is that there is a particularly strong sense of companionship between the inhabitants of islands, President Lonsdale saying, “I trust the people of Vanuatu. I trust my government. I trust the people that they will stand united together as a nation and rebuild the nation.”