An IsraAID volunteer helps analyze the water sources in Vanuatu. An IsraAID volunteer helps analyze the water sources in Vanuatu. An IsraAID volunteer helps analyze the water sources in Vanuatu. (Photo: IsraAID)

After a natural disaster, long-term help is critical

Following a devastating cyclone in March, aid work continues in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

When Cyclone Pam roared onto the shores of Vanuatu in mid-March, it caused destruction never before seen on the tiny South Pacific nation of 83 islands. The category-5 storm, with peak winds of 165 mph, impacted the entire population of approximately 250,000 people.

Fortunately, as with most natural disasters, the world stepped up in the immediate aftermath. International aid workers delivered food and water, reestablished telecommunications and provided shelter. In addition, financial assistance poured into the country, where the capital, Port Vila, is about 640 miles west of Fiji.

A similar humanitarian effort recently unfolded in Nepal following a deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April (and subsequent aftershocks, including a 7.3 one in early May). Here, groups like Oxfam International, IsraAID and Save the Children served as a focal point to funnel desperately needed aid to the country.

But with both natural disasters, and the ones that will inevitably follow, the work must continue after the news cameras and the world’s attention might have moved on to other topics.

UNICEF volunteers help ship much-needed educational supplies to Vanuatu.UNICEF volunteers help ship much-needed educational supplies to Vanuatu. (Photo: UNICEF/Getty Images)

“Long-term relief efforts are as crucial as short-term efforts,” David Colbert, a trustee with the Butterfly Trust, told From The Grapevine. “Long-term efforts can focus on future-proofing vulnerable communities against future disasters.”

The New Zealand-based charity raced to Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam and hasn’t left since.

Other groups, like IsraAID, have made Vanuatu a long-term priority as well. Initially, its emergency response team helped local officials evaluate the damage and map out and prioritize urgent needs. The group continues to offer psychosocial assistance, deliver food, water and basic supplies and lead efforts to rebuild and restore access to clean water.

In addition to sending emergency provisions, UNICEF has provided temporary safe learning spaces and education supplies, including “school-in-a-box” kits that will benefit an estimated 30,000 people. The organization now hopes to raise millions of dollars in the months ahead so lifesaving assistance reaches children and their families.

Life in Vanuatu is slowly improving thanks to all these efforts, Colbert said. Many residents live in rebuilt houses or ones protected with temporary tarpaulins. Food distribution and clean water have reached the hardest-hit areas. The economy has stuttered back to life, with local ships operating again. Government offices are open for business.

Yet, deficiencies still remain, including less abundant and more expensive food, scarce clean drinking water in some areas, schools functioning at less-than-full capacity or not operating at all, and many services only slowly coming back on line, such as outer island transport, he said. Also, tourism has dropped in the main centers of Port Vila and Luganville.

“The attitude of the people, however, remains as it has always been – fairly upbeat and accepting,” Colbert said.

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