Food running out for cyclone affected communities in Vanuatu | Pacific Beat

Food running out for cyclone affected communities in Vanuatu

Food running out for cyclone affected communities in Vanuatu

Posted 14 February 2011, 8:36 AEST

Food supplies are yet to arrive for communities in Vanuatu's Tafea Province, a month after Tropical Cyclone Vania passed over.

More than 30 thousand people are affected by crop loss that includes bananas, yams, breadfruit, water taro and coconuts.

The crop damage left just a couple of weeks of food supply, and now families are having to cut down on meals.

Greg Grimsich is with the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and has been in Port Vila talking to disaster management officials. He says food distribution needs to move forward quickly.

Presenter: Kate McPherson.

Speaker: Greg Grimsich, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

GRIMSICH: One of the priorities is looking at food assistance. It has been over approximately a month now since the cyclone came across the southern province of Tafea. Most of the households there are subsistence farming dependent, so the crop damage that affected the communities is probably the greatest concern and initially there was some food in surplus that was recoverable from the farms, however at this point, the damage to many of the crops that took place, they are facing some food shortages and we've had some reports of families reducing from three meals a day to two meals a day.

MCPHERSON: Has food been brought into the province and has it arrived to the families that need it?

GRIMSICH: At the moment, it hasn't. I mean one thing that's fortunate that these families were able to recover some food. It wasn't a complete destruction of the crops, but having said that, I mean when you have up to 50 per cent of the crops destroyed, in time there will be an impact. So at the moment, the government has set aside at least 35 million vatu for a distribution, almost likely rice and that's now been put into the pipeline. So in regard to the food support, we're also looking at complementary program that would provide seed and seedlings of crops like taro that would be very quick to turn around and provide a harvestable crops in a matter of three to four months.

MCPHERSON: Water systems was damaged. Is there clean water available and I guess in addition to that, was their clean water available to begin with?

GRIMSICH: Yes, there was, there were a number of water projects that had been built previously, but with landslides and the torrential rains that came down, a lot of mud came into the system, so you had a contamination. Now there's been a lot of work in this area by UNICEF and the Red Cross in distributing buckets and water purification tablets and across from the most affected communities, where there is damage to the water infrastructure and there's assessments that are continuing today looking at water quality and infrastructure across the entire Tafea Province. There is already money mobilised to provide material support to rebuild some of those damaged water systems.

MCPHERSON: After disasters such as this, there is always a concern about disease. Any signs of problems arising yet?

GRIMSICH: There has not been indication of an increase based on the health authorities report, but that's a very good point, because that's something else that needs to be strengthened and WHO is providing additional financial assistance to increase the Ministry of Health surveillance capacity in the coming weeks to ensure that if there are any indications of outbreaks of disease, or concerns regarding nutritional status of children, those will be picked up quickly and can be responded to.

MCPHERSON: Several dozen school buildings were damaged or destroyed, any word on how long it will be until children get back into learning?

GRIMSICH: They don't expect the damage to schools to have an impact on children's ability to return to school at this term, but there have been some repairs I understand underway by local communities. But at the moment, there is more of a concern about the school fees. At the moment, there's over 15-hundred students in secondary school and they have to pay up to 5,000 vatu per term, which is a significant amount of money for the whole community. It's upwards I believe of 70,000 US dollars if you look at three terms across a given year, so that's some investment. So the Education Department is actually looking at waiving some of the school fees to help family members maintain their children in school.

MCPHERSON: Looking at it, or do you believe that that action will be taken?

GRIMSICH: I think they wanted to do a cost estimate and the impact that it would have also on the ability to maintain quality education for the children. So since the school term is just starting, I think that decision will be made very soon.

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