Cyclone Pam has left widespread destruction across the capital of Vanuatu, and concern is running deep about the fate of communities on the hard-to-reach outer islands of this South Pacific nation.
The storm hit the country directly on Friday night, tearing across the archipelago with winds up to 155 miles per hour. Oxfam has a team on the ground and more humanitarian response experts are attempting to reach the country now.
“The scenes we are seeing today are just devastating with entire communities gone,” said said Colin Collet van Rooyen, Oxfam’s country director for Vanuatu. “At least 90 percent of housing here in Port Vila (the capital) has been badly damaged.”
Damage to essential infrastructure such as the morgue, the hospital, and schools could create major problems in the coming days that could compound the devastation left by Cyclone Pam.
“Clean water, sanitation and hygiene supplies are also a major issue for those left homeless and also those in evacuation centers, where there simply are not enough toilets or clean water for the amount of people in those facilities,” said Collet van Rooyen. “With extra help arriving on the Australian Government plane today we now have a team of 10 people working on this emergency response, and there is a lot off work to be done,” he said.
The $5 million aid package announced by the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will play an important role in the response, Collet van Rooyen added.
Home to more than 250,000 people, Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of four main islands and 80 smaller ones with narrow coastal plains in the South Pacific. Port Vila has been named in the Natural Hazards Risk Atlas as the city most exposed to natural disasters in the world because of the risks it faces from earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, and cyclones like Pam.
Oxfam has been working on disaster preparedness at both the local and national level in Vanuatu for the past four years. We have been funding communities to build cyclone-proof classrooms and coordinating the Vanuatu humanitarian team while working closely with governments and donor agencies to strengthen disaster preparedness across the country.
We will continue to provide updates on the situation in Vanuatu as we learn more.
Please donate to the Cyclone Pam Relief and Recovery Fund today to rush emergency aid to the region.