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Cyclone Pam devastated the island nation of Vanuatu, where much of the population is still awaiting relief nearly a week after the storm. (Photo: CNN)

In Vanuatu, Death Toll Climbs as Scale of Devastation Sinks In

'In the next days people will not have enough food anymore.'

Nadia Prupis

Thousands of people left homeless in Vanuatu last weekend after a deadly cyclone ripped through the cluster of islands in the South Pacific were still waiting for relief on Friday.

As the confirmed death toll from the hurricane rose to 13, many survivors were still taking refuge in homeless shelters, while Vanuatu's government began distributing emergency supplies to some of the affected areas and foreign aid arrived to the hard-hit island of Tanna in the form of French and Australian troops.

Other provinces will have to wait for the government to finish its official assessment before they send help. "Some relief supplies have been starting to get there anyway, but the more organized and the larger relief efforts will start tomorrow," Osnat Lubrani, the country's United Nations humanitarian coordinator, told the Associated Press on Friday. "The relief has to start coming now, because if it doesn't come in the next two days or so, then we will have problems with food and with water."

The island nation will need at least $2 million in emergency aid to buy supplies and ship them to the most affected areas, the UN said.

According to Oxfam, up to 90 percent of housing in Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, was seriously damaged from the cyclone, which hit the archipelago with winds that soared from 155-185 miles per hour.

Isso Nihmei, Vanuatu's coordinator for 350.org, made an appeal for help from supporters on Tuesday, stating, "In the next days people will not have enough food anymore."

"Now that Cyclone Pam has left, it's like a heat wave has hit us," Isso continued. "Climate change is bringing new extremes to Vanuatu. It's devastating us."

As Neel Patel explains at Wired, there are unique and severe challenges to bringing help to Vanuatu. Patel writes:

A Category 5 storm is a short straw for any country to pull, but especially for Vanuatu, a geographically fragmented nation spread over 800 miles in the middle of the ocean. It’s already difficult to communicate and travel between the country’s 82 separate islands—let alone after a cyclone hits.

... OCHA [UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] estimates a need for for 12,000 more shelter kits and 24,00 tarpaulins for displaced victims. "Getting around Vanuatu on a good day was already difficult," says [Oxfam director Michael] Delaney. But with many airstrips and deepwater ports destroyed or damaged by the cyclone, efforts to get food, water, and medical supplies to people in need are severely stifled.

As previously reported by Common Dreams, resources were already strained throughout the island nation due to the effects of climate change. But Cyclone Pam's devastation not only tore apart housing and infrastructure but also destroyed forests and crops—an incalculable consequence for a nation of farmers. With few crops and livestock left, food shortages will be exacerbated for at least a few years, Patel says.

"And once the buildings are standing again, Vanuatu's citizens will need to prepare for the next time a disaster hits," he writes.

For those who wish to donate toward relief efforts, CNN compiled a list of aid groups "poised and ready to start helping once it is safe to do so."


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