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Oxfam brings clean water to thousands in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

A fire truck distributes water to communities in Etas with Oxfam's support. "It's a very great relief to get this water," said Casabella Lakon (right). Photo by Amy Christian

Our emergency response aims to reach 10,000 people directly.

As Vanuatu begins the long, hard task of recovery in the wake of Cyclone Pam, Oxfam has been helping to provide clean water to thousands of people in the South Pacific island nation. We have also distributed hygiene kits to evacuation centers in the capital, Port Vila, and plan further distribution to the outer islands this week.

Across 22 of Vanuatu’s islands, about 166,000 people—or two-thirds of the country’s population—have been affected by the storm, which contaminated local drinking water and severely damaged farms. For an estimated 80 percent of Vanuatu’s rural population, the cyclone hit their means of making a living particularly hard.

“The cyclone has come at a very bad time,” said Oliver Lato, a senior extension officer with Oxfam’s partner, the Farm Support Association. “Farmers who had planted vegetables would have lost all their crops. If they kept local seeds, they should start planting things like corn, pumpkin, and choko now for food security in two months time. There may be a food gap.”

As we scale up our response, Oxfam is aiming to reach 10,000 people directly. A core component of our work will focus on clean water, sanitation services, and hygiene promotion—all essential in preventing the outbreak of waterborne diseases. We will also continue coordination of the Vanuatu Humanitarian Team, a network of more than 100 people from non-governmental organizations who work closely on humanitarian issues with the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office.

Oxfam staffers helped to distribute hygiene kits at Lycee Bouganville school, which has been serving as a temporary evacuation center. Photo by Philippe Metois/OxfamAUS

Reducing the risk of disaster

Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale said that climate change is a factor in the devastation left behind by the storm. Though the country experiences cyclones quite regularly, Pam was different: The unusually high temperature of the ocean’s surface in the region at the time contributed to the storm’s strength. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that wind speeds and rainfall during cyclones could both increase because of climate change.

Vanuatu is already ranked by the World Risk Index as the country with the highest disaster risk since 2011. And its capital tops the list of cities in the world most exposed to natural disasters, according to the Natural Hazards Risk Atlas. Those are two of the reasons that Oxfam has been working with the Vanuatu government and other organizations to help the country be better prepared for disasters.

And while it might be too early to say for sure, anecdotal evidence suggests that disaster preparedness and risk reduction measures supported by Oxfam played a role in preventing deaths during the cyclone. The National Disaster Management Office has confirmed that 11 people died in the storm. Warning systems alerted residents to the approach of the storm, allowing them time to prepare and find shelter in emergency centers.

In 2012, a consortium of aid groups came together to form the Vanuatu NGO Climate Change Adaptation Program. Coordinated by Oxfam, the program works with more than 5,000 people on 12 islands and aims to strengthen existing governance structures and to reduce the risk of disaster.

Oxfam has been working in Vanuatu since 1989. Our programs have focused on youth empowerment, the rights of women and girls, training and supporting small-scale farmers, and helping people to better prepare for disasters while building their resilience to them.

Donate to the Cyclone Pam Relief and Recovery Fund today to rush emergency aid to the region.

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