Vanuatu: Clean water and food still out of reach a month after triple disaster
Port Vila, 03 April 2023: Clean water and food are still out of reach for half of the population in Vanuatu, a month after two intense tropical cyclones and an earthquake struck the Pacific island nation in less than a week. Children and communities are spiralling into a health emergency, Save the Children said.
Category Four cyclones Judy and Kevin struck Vanuatu on March 1 and 3, 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).
Communities now face water-borne diseases, gastroenteritis and ringworm, due to a lack of safe drinking water, fresh food and adequate sanitation, according to Save the Children. Children’s education remains disrupted, with 100 classrooms needing reconstruction, and 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. She said:
“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.”
“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.”
Save the Children has helped Noa*’s family fix their home temporarily with a tarp, and has provided other supplies such as blankets and tools for the garden. The child rights organisation has also set up a Child Friendly Space, giving Emele*’s three children a safe place to go to.
Emele* said: “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”
Save the Children Vanuatu Acting Country Director Jack French said that as the country moves towards the early recovery stage of the disaster, it is vital that Vanuatu remains top of mind for the international community. He said:
“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.”
“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.”
Save the Children has a long history of responding to emergencies in the Pacific and Vanuatu, ensuring we work alongside the Government of Vanuatu in the coordination of the response.
So far, Save the Children has reached around 1,500 people with shelter, household and hygiene kits and helped 1,000 children return to education safely with temporary learning centres and materials. It has also helped bring health experts into impacted communities, and set up Child Friendly Spaces for around 300 children.
We have spokespeople in Vanuatu available. For more information or interviews please contact:
Emily Wight, Emily.Wight@savethechildren.org (based in London)
Holly Robertson, Holly.Robertson@savethechildren.org.au; +61 414 546 656 (based in Australia)
Our media out of hours (BST) contact is firstname.lastname@example.org / +44(0)7831 650409
Please also check our Twitter account @Save_GlobalNews for news alerts, quotes, statements and location Vlogs.
Notes to editors:
- *Names changed to protect identities