After Category 5 Cyclone Harold battered the Pacific in the lead up to Easter this year, people in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have been faced with the dual challenge of responding to the threat of COVID-19 and recovering from another environmental disaster.
On April 2nd, Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold was classified as a Category 1 storm as it passed southeast of the Solomon Islands. Later that day, a passenger ferry evacuating people from Honiara as a part of their COVID-19 response encountered rough seas. Tragically, 27 people were washed overboard and died.
TC Harold increased in intensity to a Category 5 storm, becoming the third most powerful storm in recorded history to make landfall in the South Pacific. It headed directly over the populated islands of Santo and Pentecost in Vanuatu. TC Harold then hit the southern Fijian islands and moved on to Tonga. All countries suffered damage to infrastructure, and communities already struggling with the economic impacts of COVID-19 are now also dealing with loss of shelter, water and agriculture.
AOA is responding to TC Harold in both the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
In the Solomon Islands, we are leading the Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations (CAN DO) response, working with their trained volunteers and the government to find out how much damage has was done. That is allowing local partners to prioritise their needs. Communities, staff and volunteers have provided emergency food, agricultural tools and seeds, as well as hygiene kits.
In Vanuatu, we are working on providing psychological support for communities, including pastoral care and protection. We are using what we have already done through our Safe, Resilient Communities project to increase the response needed to handle the double impact of TC Harold and COVID-19 on vulnerable women and children.
Church leaders, staff and volunteers are being trained in safeguarding and protection, referral services and handling complaints. They are also providing services at evacuation centres, drop-in centres, and door-to-door engagement across Santo, especially in the remote and rural impacted areas.
All of the response work above is part-funded by the Government of Australia; Disaster READY is supported by the Australian Government and implemented through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership