SEATTLE, Washington — Tropical Cyclone Harold made its way to the Pacific Islands early this April, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation. The cyclone began to take form on the east coast of Papua New Guinea on April 1 as a low-pressure system. On April 2, Cyclone Harold hit the Solomon Islands as a Category 1 cyclone. It progressed to Vanuatu on April 5 and became the first Category 5 cyclone of 2020. Three days later on April 8, the cyclone dropped to a Category 4 and hit the south of Fiji, only to scale back up to a Category 5 on April 9 and impact Tonga.
Tropical Cyclone Harold left thousands of homes destroyed, leaving numerous people homeless and without resources for survival. Power outages and loss of food security were some of the troublesome results of severely damaged infrastructure and agriculture in cities. The Pacific Islands, especially Vanuatu, could not physically or economically handle the influx of survivors that needed shelter and resources.
Australia Provided Relief for Affected Countries
The Australian government has supplied the affected countries with emergency shelters, food, hygiene kits and funding in order to cope with the turmoil. The health restrictions due to COVID-19 have not made relief an easy process. Since the four Pacific Island nations reported very few cases of COVID-19, nations put preventative measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Australia has made sure to implement strict protocols for delivering supplies in a safe manner. The Australian government also took this opportunity to provide the countries with essential supplies to support their efforts with COVID-19.
The Solomon Islands
The first Pacific Island that Tropical Cyclone Harold hit was the Solomon Islands. The cyclone started as a Category 1 and grew to a Category 3 by the time it passed through the island. Unfortunately, the storm killed 27 people when they were thrown overboard in a ferry boat. The National Damage Management Office (NDMO) reported that numerous homes, roads and crops in areas like Honiara, Makire and Western Province faced large-scale damage. The NDMO put out emergency calls “for food, shelter, health, water and sanitation for 150,000 people.”
Fortunately, the Australian government took action and provided more than $60,000 for immediate emergency relief and supplies. The Australian aid agency, Anglican Overseas Aid, made efforts to coordinate with more isolated areas of the Solomon Islands to provide relief to everyone possible. Additional aid-funded agencies like Oxfam Solomon Islands and CARE Australia have also provided essential resources and supplies to those in need.
Aid in Vanuatu
The second island Cyclone Harold impacted was Vanuatu. The storm reached maximum intensity by the time it reached the island at a Category 5. Vanuatu received the most damage and troublesome aftermath due to the severity of the storm. Around 50% of the country’s population was affected by the storm, most being from Sanma, Penama and Malampa. The storm destroyed or severely damaged more than 17,000 homes, leaving about 87,000 people homeless and in need of shelter. The Vanuatu Health Emergency Operations Center confirmed three deaths. Vanuatu Business Resilience Council member Glen Craig estimated that nearly 90% of homes in the city of Luganville were damaged.
Health security took a hit due to the damage to 37 health centers. The nation’s relief centers then became overcrowded and incapable of providing shelter for the growing number of homeless citizens. This led to outbreaks of diarrhea, malaria and dengue and increasing rates of gender-based violence and child protection issues in evacuation centers. Crop damage has led to increased food security in Vanuatu. According to education cluster assessments, the storm damaged or destroyed about 885 schools in Northern Vanuatu.
Australia immediately took action in providing relief to the people of Vanuatu. The Australian government in alliance with non-government organizations like the Red Cross and UNICEF to provided relief packages. These included supplies like tents, lanterns, utensils and hygiene kits to more than 16,000 people. The Australian government is also aiding Vanuatu in the rebuilding of schools and health centers.
Australia’s Aid to Fiji
Fiji was hit by Tropical Cyclone Harold at a Category 4. The prime minister of Fiji reported that the storm affected more than 180,000 people. It severely damaged or destroyed more than 3,000 homes. The storm caused millions of dollars worth of agricultural and infrastructural damage, leading to decreased food security and livelihood of citizens. The Ministry of Education reported damage to 59 schools, pointing to a future education crisis similar to Vanuatu’s.
The Australian government took swift action and provided aerial surveillance to determine the extent of damage Fiji took from the storm. The Royal Australian Air Force dropped various relief packages that included tents, utensils, water containers and hygiene kits to more than 29,000 Fijians. Australia provided funding towards the Fiji Red Cross to rebuild agriculture and infrastructure, counseling for affected citizens and access to water and sanitation.
Aid in Tonga
Tonga was the final island to be hit at a Category 5. Luckily, the damage inflicted was minor compared to the other Pacific nations as it only hit the west coast. Cyclone Harold damaged tourist resorts in Tongatapu due to high tides occurring simultaneously with storm surges. Authorities reported that the storm demolished three tourist resorts north of Nukualofa. The cyclone also damaged nine schools in Nukualofa. The island of ‘Eua suffered severe damage to its main wharf and roads due to the cyclone. Australia worked with the Tonga Red Cross, Caritas Tonga and MORDI Tonga Trust in providing damage assessment and essential resources like hygiene kits and food.
Despite Tropical Cyclone Harold wreaking havoc on the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, the Australian government and Australian non-government organizations provided immediate relief and assistance. The short-term relief in the form of supply packages will ensure that the influx of affected people will receive care in these critical times. The funds provided by the Australian government to rebuild infrastructure and agriculture will ensure that the people of the Pacific Islands can recover from the cyclone and restore food security and livelihood for the future.
– Dalton Dunning