National appeal for cyclone affected communities

UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) have launched a national appeal to support the communities devastated by Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Thousands of people across Vanuatu are homeless after the Category 5 cyclone. The UCA’s partner in Vanuatu, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV), is providing much needed shelter with 10 churches set up as evacuation centres. The Cyclone’s 300 km/h gusts of wind wiped out entire villages and an estimated 15,000 homes have been destroyed. At least eight people have lost their lives, with the toll expected to rise. Hospitals, government buildings, shops and hotels were also significantly damaged.

Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Ralph Regenvanu reported from the National Disaster and Management Centre that a state of emergency was declared for Province of Shefa, which includes Port Vila.

“Once aerial assessments are in, the state of emergency will be extended to other provinces, if not the whole country. The total population of Vanuatu is considered to be affected,” said Ralph.

PCV health program co-ordinator Richard Tatwin said Port Vila looked like a “war-zone”.

“Electrical poles, uprooted trees and shards of smashed glass are lying everywhere, along with sheets of corrugated iron that were once the roofs of people’s homes,” said Richard.

Richard fears the worst for PVC’s health clinics on the outer islands of Tanna, Sola and Santo where communication towers built to withstand hurricanes were destroyed.

President of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev Prof Andrew Dutney urged church members and supporters to back UnitingWorld’s appeal.

“Our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters throughout the Pacific who have experienced the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam,” said Andrew. “I call on all UCA members to get behind UnitingWorld to provide immediate support to people on the ground.”

Cyclone Pam travelled the full length of Vanuatu, leaving almost no community untouched.

National Director of UnitingWorld Rob Floyd said Pam was one of the worst cyclones to hit the Pacific, with people also experiencing devastation in Kiribati and Tuvalu.

“The full extent of the damage is still unknown given the spread of the population across many islands, some of them extremely remote,” said Rob. “The scale of damage means the recovery process will take a long time and people will face hardship for many years to come.

“The first thing people need is shelter, food and safe drinking water. Access to all of these things will be difficult as people are without homes, communication and infrastructure.”

UnitingWorld Pacific program managers Jane Kennedy and Bronwyn Fraser have been receiving regular updates from church partners in Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

“We are working with our church partners and other humanitarian agencies to identify the most immediate requirements and will respond accordingly,” said Jane Kennedy.

Jane encouraged people who wanted to help to donate money rather than sending goods.

“Containers can divert attention from an effective aid response, are expensive for people on the ground and often don’t meet the specific needs. The best thing you can do is send financial support so we and our church networks can organise a co-ordinated response.

“And please pray for our partners during this traumatic time – I know it means a huge amount to our church partners overseas that the people of the Uniting Church in Australia are standing with them.”

UnitingWorld is calling for donations to support the immediate humanitarian response to the cyclone. You can make a secure online donation by visiting www.unitingworld.org.au or call 1800 000 331. All donations to this appeal are tax deductible.

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