UNICEF’s team on the ground in Fiji is responding to the devastating aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston and hearing first hand from children and families how their lives have been forever changed.
Water and sanitation kits, together with education and health supplies were delivered to Koro Island by UNICEF, in partnership with the Government of Fiji. The island, situated between Fiji’s two largest islands, was one of the worst affected by the cyclone and accessed by ship.
Joseph Hing, a Fijian UNICEF staff member, delivered humanitarian supplies to the island community.
“As we sailed closer, we started to smell the dead carcasses of livestock that were floating past the ships,” he said. “When we smelt those, we knew that this disaster was really, really bad.”
When the morning mist cleared and the response team could see the island clearly, Mr Hing said, “It looked like someone took a torch and just burnt from one side to the other.”
He described the coral in the ocean that was lifted up by a storm surge following the cyclone and explained how the ship had to manoeuvre around it. When he reached the island, he heard numerous stories of survival.
Akisi Naituku, a nurse at the Nasau Health Centre on the island described how children, women and men took refuge in a small room (4 x 3m) at the centre as they waited for the category 5 cyclone to pass. “Children arrived at the centre crying, scared and soaking wet,” she said. She described how the community rallied together to keep each other safe and sang songs to calm the children.
UNICEF spoke to children and families across the country to understand the impact of the cyclone on their lives.
In Ba, on the north western part of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, 13 year old Makereta Nasiki spoke of her experience, “It was the most terrifying night of my life. The first thing to go was our kitchen then we moved to another part of the house and then the ceiling fell through.” Sitting in her flooded bedroom, she said, “I don’t know what we’ll do now.”
Across the country, more than 120,000 children are likely to have been affected by the aftermath of the cyclone, with at least 67 schools having been destroyed and others used as evacuation centres for families who have lost their homes.
“More than 22,000 people are taking refuge in 246 evacuation centres,” said Alice Clements from the UNICEF Pacific team.
“Following the request of the Government of Fiji for assistance, UNICEF has reached more than 3,000 people in some of the worst affected areas with water and sanitation supplies to ensure safe drinking water.
“Hygiene kits for 7,920 people and water purification tablets for over a thousand households were donated by the Australian Government and delivered in partnership with the Australian Defence Force to UNICEF’s warehouse in Suva for distribution by the Fijian Ministry of Health.
“UNICEF is responding fast but people are really struggling,” said Ms Clements. “We urge Australians to help by donating funds to help rebuild lives.”
Donations to the Fiji Children’s Emergency Appeal can be made at www.unicef.org.au/fiji.