PORT VILA, Vanuatu: Vanuatu warned on Tuesday it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the sprawling Pacific nation.
Relief agencies have warned that conditions are among the most challenging they have faced, with mounting concerns about disease, and the nation’s President Baldwin Lonsdale has appealed for the world to help after Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam lashed the island with wind gusts of up to 320 kilometers (200 miles) per hour.
Save the Children’s Vanuatu director Tom Skirrow told Agence France-Presse the logistical challenges were even worse than for Super Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Yolanda), 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,” he said.
“The numbers are smaller but the percentage of the population that’s been affected is much bigger,” he added.
With 24 people so far confirmed dead, the scale of the disaster became clearer with the first team of aid workers reaching Tanna island, home to 30,000 people some 200 kilometers south of the capital Port Vila, itself badly damaged.
“The impression they got from their initial observations was that the damage is significantly worse than Port Vila,” Tom Perry from CARE Australia told AFP. He added that the hospital was functioning, but it had no roof.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said reconnaissance by the Australian military “confirmed significant damage in the southern islands.”
“And particularly Tanna island, where it appears that more than 80 percent of houses and buildings have been partially or completely destroyed,” she said.
“Not only buildings flattened, but palm plantations, trees. It’s quite a devastating sight,” she added.
Communications to many of the other 80 islands in the sprawling archipelago, most only accessible by boat, were still down and Benjamin Shing, from Lonsdale’s office, said survivors would quickly run out of food.
‘Need to get some rations’
“The first week we are relying on the fact that the food crops and the gardens are still edible and they can be used for the first week, but after the first week we’ll need to get some rations on the ground,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
With crops wiped out, Shing feared the worst for a country that largely relies on subsistence farming, warning “there might be a lot of fatalities.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a situation report that “there are 24 confirmed fatalities” across Vanuatu so far and some 30 injured.
Perry said of the 24 dead, at least five were from Tanna and that CARE Australia was also worried about the lack of food.
“Food running out is of great concern,” he said.
Local woman Sale Chilia said residents living in Mele, a large village of about 5,000 people two kilometers south of Port Vila, were starting to worry about where they could source their next meal.
“We only have the leftovers now,” she said.
In Port Vila, access to water and electricity was partially restored after the storm brought down an estimated 80 percent of power lines and damaged most homes.
Stores also began reopening, but entire neighborhoods remained without power as aid workers streamed in to help make sense of what many have said was one of the region’s worst weather disasters.
In the capital, leaves and branches lined the streets while residents began clearing metal roof sheeting from the roads around their homes and using machetes to hack through fallen trees.