PORT VILA, Vanuatu — About 80 islands in the South Pacific comprise the archipelagic state of Vanuatu. It is one of the few countries mostly free of coronavirus cases. Though the country is relatively safe from the current pandemic, it was rocked by a category 5 tropical cyclone in early April, 2020. The storm dubbed Cyclone Harold’s impact will be long-lasting. Furthermore, the nation’s access to foreign aid has diminished significantly given the risks of COVID-19.
Cyclone Harold’s Impact on Vanuatu
Vanuatu is rated as “the country with the highest disaster risk” in the world, therefore it is not surprising that cyclones have such a significant impact. Although the government reported the nation’s first COVID-19 case in early November, its economy has been destabilized since the start of this pandemic. Vanuatu is dependant on tourism for the majority of its economic activity. Therefore, with the borders closed, numerous hotels and restaurants had to shut down. Many lost their jobs and are still awaiting the stimulus package promised by the government.
Experts consider this cyclone “one of the strongest ever recorded in the Southeast Pacific.” According to Oxfam, Cyclone Harold’s impact affected approximately 160,000 people — about half of Vanuatu’s population. According to the U.N., around 80-90% of those affected are now homeless. Due to the country’s remoteness, it could successfully close its borders. However, this is now affecting its ability to receive foreign assistance.
The damage was even worse than that of Cyclone Pam in 2016, which left around 3,300 displaced. One of the most significant effects was Cyclone Harold’s impact on food security. The storm significantly damaged food production, as it destroyed many crop fields and farm productions. It is estimated that 37% of people are facing food insecurity due to the cyclone. Additionally, numerous others are facing delays in receiving food aid due to damaged roads.
Providing Relief to Those in Vanuatu
The Red Cross in Vanuatu has been actively working to provide care to all affected. Moreover, organizations like UNICEF, the U.N’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Vision were quick in responding to the emergency situation. They provided critical supplies, access to water, food, sanitation, shelter and medical assistance. Cyclones might not be avoidable, but preparation for these events is key. The government’s top priority is recovering from Cyclone Harold’s impact and finding ways to prepare for future natural disasters.
– Alannys Milano