By Navinesh Kumar, IFRC
On 20 February, Cyclone Winston slammed into the Pacific Island Nation of Fiji. The Category Five tropical storm left immense damage in its wake, damaging or destroying more than 32,000 houses and affecting more than 350,000 people across the country.
At the time, Fiji like many small island nations in the South Pacific had been suffering from the impact of the strong El Niño event, which had inflicted drought and water shortages on the country. The cyclone brought new vulnerabilities; rendering thousands homeless, destroying crops and livelihoods and contaminating water sources.
In response, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a major international emergency response operation, working closely with Fiji Red Cross Society (FRCS) across some of the worst hit communities. Within the first six months of the operation, 63,000 people have been reached with humanitarian assistance.
Fiji Red Cross volunteers have played a critical role. Many were directly affected by the disaster, but despite this, hundreds of staff and volunteers mobilised from across the country to help.
Initially the greatest needs were identified as being shelter, water sanitation and health and psychosocial support. In some remote communities, people had lost everything and the Red Cross were amongst the first emergency responders to distribute relief items such as tarpaulins, shelter repair kits, jerry cans, blankets, kitchen sets, clothing and mosquito nets. Specialist staff were also deployed to provide psyschosocial support to households who were struggling to cope with the trauma of their experience.
In the year ahead Fiji Red Cross together with IFRC, plan to assist 50,000 people (10,000 households) through an integrated recovery operation that links health and hygiene interventions with rebuilding homes and improving water and sanitation systems. Work has started on 50 demonstration homes and upgrades and repairs to household water & sanitation facilities have also begun.
“Many people are rebuilding using the same techniques as before. The Red Cross shelter programme aims to support & train households in techniques that will enable them to build back safer; this is an owner driven approach where we train carpenters and inform local people in simple techniques to make their homes more resistant to cyclones,” said Paul Grierson, IFRC Operations Manager in Fiji.
“People have shown great resilience in managing their recovery and we are building on this strength by supporting them in a holistic manner to rebuild their communities,” added Grierson.
The Red Cross aims to help with repairs to 2,000 houses and reach a further 10,000 households with messaging and guidance that will help people to build back better and safer.
Fiji Red Cross Director General Mr Filipe Nainoca said the rate of recovery has been different in each community. The priority for Red Cross staff and volunteers has remained on visiting affected communities and helping them re-build physically and mentally.
“There is still a lot to be done. Our international appeal is still only 57% per cent covered, we are requesting the international community to continue to support us in rebuilding the lives of survivors, many of whom remain extremely vulnerable.”