Tue, Mar 17, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Vanuatu’s president pleads for help


Samuel, right, plays with a ball found in the ruins while his father, Phillip, searches for what remained of their family home in Port Vila, Vanuatu, yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Vanuatu’s president pleaded with the world yesterday to help the cyclone-ravaged Pacific nation rebuild its “completely destroyed” infrastructure, as aid agencies warned conditions were among the most challenging they have faced with fears of disease rife.

An emotional Vanuatuan President Baldwin Lonsdale said the need was “immediate” after Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through the nation on Friday last week packing gusts of up to 320kph, leaving massive destruction.

“The humanitarian need is immediate, we need it right now,” Lonsdale said ahead of flying home from a disaster conference in Japan, adding that the poverty-stricken island chain also desperately requires longer-term financial support.

“After all the development we have done for the last couple of years, and this big cyclone came and just destroyed... all the infrastructure the government has... built. Completely destroyed,” he said. “We need international funding to [re]build all the infrastructure.”

Many world leaders have pledged support, and military planes from Australia, New Zealand and France were arriving loaded with food, shelter, medicine and generators, along with disaster relief teams.

The official death toll in the battered capital Port Vila, where aid workers said up to 90 percent of homes have been damaged, stands at six, with more than 30 injured, although there are fears this is likely a fraction of the fatalities caused by the storm.

Vanuatuan Prime Minister Joe Natuman said he was at home when the tempest hit.

“I tell you it was quite frightening,” Natuman told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It sounded like a big noise, you know. Throughout the night, big noise, thunder, lightning. When you looked out you couldn’t see anything.”

While the aid missions continued landing, workers on the ground said there was no way to distribute desperately needed supplies across the archipelago’s 80 islands, warning it would take days to reach remote villages flattened by the monster storm.

Oxfam country director in Port Vila Colin Collett van Rooyen said a lack of enough clean water, temporary toilets, water purification tablets and hygiene kits needed to be addressed rapidly.

“Friday night was the first emergency with the arrival of Cyclone Pam, disease will be the second emergency without clean water, sanitation and hygiene provision,” he said. “There are more than 100,000 people likely homeless, every school destroyed, full evacuation centers, damage to health facilities and the morgue.”

Save the Children’s Vanuatu director Tom Skirrow said the logistical challenges were even worse than for Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing.

“I was present for the Haiyan response and I would 100 percent tell you that this is a much more difficult logistical problem,” Skirrow said. “The numbers are smaller, but the percentage of the population that’s been affected is much bigger.”

Aurelia Balpe, head of the Pacific office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, agreed that the task facing aid agencies was likely unprecedented in the region.

“I don’t think there has ever been destruction on this scale in one place,” Balpe said.

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