Tropical Cyclone Harold impacted the Pacific island nation of Solomon Islands as it passed by as a Category 1 storm on April 2 2020, before making landfall and devastating the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu as a stronger Category 5 storm on April 6.
With winds reaching up to 250km/hr and bringing heavy rains, both countries were hit with damaged buildings and houses, decimated food crops, power outages, loss of communications and loss of life.
While assessments are being carried out, it is estimated that over 150,000 in Solomon Islands, including 30,000 people on the Solomon Islands main island, Guadalcanal, have been impacted with loss of shelter and food. In the harder hit Vanuatu, 160,000 people have been impacted across the islands. On the island of Espiritu Santo alone, there has been widespread damage, leaving 90 percent of homes damaged and 5,000 homeless.
In the Solomon Islands, an attempt to remain safe from COVID-19 by travelling back to home islands resulted in 27 people losing their lives as they were caught up in rough seas caused by TC Harold and were washed off a ferry. In Vanuatu there has been one reported death, on the island of Malo.
The response to the cyclone, including the evacuation and the on-ground considerations, has been complicated by the worldwide caution and action in preventing COVID-19. The Vanuatu government lifted restrictions on public gatherings to allow the use of evacuation centres, however there is much concern about the impact should there be an outbreak. Any supplies airlifted in are being quarantined for 72 hours, which is adding further delays and complexity to the distribution logistics.
In both the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, our partner, the Anglican Church of Melanesia, is well placed to act quickly and respond to this disaster.
In the Solomon Islands, we have been able lead a team in undertaking an assessment of the impacted regions in Guadalcanal. They have found there is much need for shelter, mosquito nets to keep them safe from disease, and they have lost much of their food gardens.
In Vanuatu, there is also much need for shelter, clean water and food. There are also many vulnerable people, including women and children, who need access to services. Because of our programs that have already been operating to help victims of violence connect to the services they need, we have been able to establish mobile community hubs. Trained church leaders means that trusted people can confidentially and safely report and refer people needing support to services.
As in every crisis, those who were vulnerable before are at further risk post-disaster. These hubs will help those in need to receive the support and protection they need.
Additionally, we are using this opportunity to inform all the communities we are working with on the risks of COVID-19. While there are no reported cases in either country as yet, the risk is very high, particularly as the population struggles with water supply and damaged infrastructure. The team at ACOM are ensuring that people are informed on good hygiene and how to protect the community around them from the virus. This includes developing education materials that also makes sure people can reach local professional responders (like health officials, counsellors and police) in their area.
All of the response work above is part-funded by the Government of Australia;
- In the Solomon Islands, as a part of our membership in CAN DO through the DisasterREADY disaster response program funding through the AHP (Australian Humanitarian Program).
- In Vanuatu, as a part of our membership in CAN DO funding through the AHP (Australian Humanitarian Program).
If you are able to help in our Tropical Cyclone Harold response, please head to our donate page and select ‘Rapid Response Emergency Fund’ in the drop down list.