Vanuatu Red Cross is distributing emergency shelter materials. Photo: IFRC
Red Cross is scaling up relief efforts to reach 22 islands in need of aid after Cyclone Pam.
Providing aid in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu is at once incredibly difficult and incredibly heartening.
Difficult because of the extent of damage on Vanuatu's scattered small islands, on which some 50-90% of homes were damaged or destroyed. Heartening because Vanuatu's resilient population are already picking up the pieces.
"In the wake of the cyclone, communities immediately rallied together to clean up and begin rebuilding," says Jacqueline De Gaillande, CEO of Vanuatu Red Cross.
"Red Cross is supporting some of the worst-hit communities by providing urgently needed shelter materials, essential household items and clean drinking water."
The Red Cross response has reached over 12,800 people across 13 islands. As the operation continues to scale up, thousands more people will receive assistance.
Reaching the islands
"The logistics of delivering aid to an affected population across 22 islands is incredibly challenging," says Jacqueline. "An operation like this means we need to hire boats, charter planes and use helicopters to ship supplies to remote locations.
"We've just had a team return from a three-day boat trip to provide relief supplies to six islands in the Shepherd Islands group. They reported many challenges including rough seas."
Over 70 trained volunteers are part of the Vanuatu Red Cross response operation, along with a team of 20 international Red Cross staff.
Red Cross volunteer Simon Olul and Australian aid worker Peter Lawther unpack a shelter toolkit. Photo: Madeline Wilson/IFRC
The Vanuatu Government is leading a nationwide relief effort involving multiple relief agencies. Australian Red Cross aid worker Peter Lawther is working with the government and Red Cross to coordinate activities relating to emergency shelter.
"We estimate approximately 14,000 houses are damaged or destroyed, which represents approximately 50% of the total houses in the affected region, so the needs are big," he says.
More than 3,500 toolkits and thousands of tarpaulins have been distributed but, as Peter explains, this is just the start.
"The first phase of the shelter response is emergency shelter relief, which involves the provision of toolkits and tarpaulins, together with non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and jerry-cans.
"After that phase, we're planning a rapid repairs program, which will involve teams of people being trained to go out into the communities and assist with the reconstruction. We will try to add some low-cost, low-tech items and materials that can help communities build back safer, so that their vulnerabilities in future events is reduced."
Preparing for the next disaster
With a network of community volunteers in all provinces and islands, Vanuatu Red Cross played a key role in issuing early warnings before Cyclone Pam struck.
As Jacqueline De Gaillande explains, this work will continue with a view to increasing community resilience to future disasters.
"Red Cross will help people not only build back better in terms of physical reconstruction, but to also develop further resilience through things like potable water sourcing, health education, hygiene promotion and first aid training."