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Tropical Cyclone Pam – Concern over food at as Vanuatu struggles to rebuild

Villagers in Vanuatu are relying on their own resources to rebuild almost two weeks after Cyclone Pam devastated the country, an Australian pastor says.

The category five storm made landfall on March 13, flattening large swathes of the Pacific archipelago.

Tom Richards is a missionary with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu on Tanna Island, one of the areas battered by Cyclone Pam.

He told the ABC there has been a huge amount of emergency relief coming into the country, but as yet “little has reached the people”.

“People are getting on with rebuilding, getting on with life,” Mr Richards said.

“They have been picking through the rubble, picking up pieces of wood, going to the bush because they make their houses from bamboo and thatches, just doing whatever they can to make shelters for themselves.

“Our friends are only now getting roofs over their heads.”

Mr Richards said the mood among people in Enefa village, who were initially upbeat following Cylone Pam, has turned into one of growing frustration.

“Talking to communities, it’s getting to a point now where there is growing concern,” he said. 

“There is an underlying mistrust in authority; people feel there’s aid somewhere that is getting to everybody else but is somehow being held back from them â?? which is not true.

“But there is that frustration over the fact that aid is coming in, but not actually there for them.”

The United Nations estimated half of Vanuatu’s population had been affected by Cyclone Pam and the livelihoods of 80 per cent of those living in rural areas had been severely compromised.

Mr Richards, who rode out the storm with his family in their house, said the sheer scale of the devastation wrought by the cyclone was shocking. 

“It was incredible, we were kind of shocked,” he said. 

“In a lull in the storm, as the eye passed, I took the opportunity to look outside and there was just nothing left; there were no leaves of trees, there were very few branches left on trees, it was all on the ground.

“Our landscape was so different that we just had to keep looking at it.

“We could see places we had never seen before into the distance because it used to be lush and green and it was all of a sudden absolutely leafless and everything was on the ground.”

Aid organisations are coordinating the response including the delivery of basic supplies, while the government of Vanuatu is aiming to provide immediate food assistance to more than 60 inhabited islands along the archipelago.

Mr Richards said food scarcity was becoming a major concern for people on Tanna Island.

“Immediately after the cyclone there was a huge amount of food around because fish had washed ashore, cows had been killed in the cyclone so needed to be eaten,” he said. 

“There was food everywhere and food in the garden could still be eaten.

“Its just got to a point now where people are hoping that food will start to come through.”

Mr Richards said it would most likely be at least a year before the communities on Tanna Island would recover from Cyclone Pam. 

“We’re staying here with the people in the long-term and rebuilding,” he said.

“The morning after the storm, everyone raced back to their houses to have a look and they said everything was flattened, they’d lost everything. 

“The next day we visited all the people we knew, sat and prayed with them in their house sites.

“We just held hands with them and cried with them and commiserated and then you know what, the next day they were rebuilding and we’ve been rebuilding ever since.”

– Weatherzone/ABC

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