As the full impact of category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston continues to emerge, UNICEF is mobilising pre-positioned humanitarian supplies from its base in Suva, Fiji.
Water and sanitation kits, together with critical education and health supplies, are currently being loaded for shipping to the islands of Koro and Ovalau, some of the worst affected areas.
Due to the severity of Cyclone Winston, the Government has declared a State of Natural Emergency and today requested assistance from the international community.
“UNICEF’s team on the ground has been immediately able to respond to the aftermath of this disaster,” said Adrian Graham, CEO for UNICEF Australia. “We have launched the Fiji Children’s Emergency Appeal to help children and families who are in desperate need of assistance.”
More than 60,000 people, including 26,000 children, live in areas that experienced very destructive winds near the eye of the cyclone and more than 400,000 people, including 165,000 children, live in areas that may have been affected by strong winds, rain and flooding.
“Children are always the most vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters and UNICEF’s priority is to reach these areas to determine the needs of children, pregnant women and lactating mothers to get emergency supplies into the hands of these families,” said Mr Graham.
While reports of varying degrees of damage are starting to filter out, little is known on the status of communities living on the outer islands of Fiji that were directly under the eye of TC Winston. For many of these geographically remote communities, communications are still down and the full extent of damage remains unknown.
“As well as the physical needs including food, clean water and shelter, we are aware of the profound stress that disasters like this put on children. It is important to reach them quickly to minimise stress, get them back into school and their normal routine.
“The extreme disruption to all facets of society must not be underestimated, such as the announcement of school closures for the next week.”
Alice Clements from UNICEF Pacific base in Suva, Fiji said, “The amount of destruction to infrastructure, livelihoods and homes that something like this can do is just immense. It can also completely destroy or severely damage school facilities and health facilities.
“Imagine the situation of a family that lives low near a river in a tin shack. They have crops that they grow and depend on to survive. It’s very possible that a cyclone has destroyed those through water logging. Those same crops are ones that they would sell at the market to make some income. So if their house has been destroyed from flash flooding from the nearby river, then that leaves no food, no home, and no livelihood. It’s likely too that children’s educations will be affected by these family setbacks.
“If we are talking about a worst case scenario, in addition to injuries and loss of life, you have a situation where peoples entire lives, top to bottom, have been turned upside down.”
The Australian Government is providing an initial $5 million package of assistance to Fiji in an immediate response to the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston. “UNICEF welcomes the announcement of Australian Government support in Fiji,” said. Mr Graham.
Donations to UNICEF emergency response can be made at www.unicef.org.au