NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz

Severe cyclone lashes Fiji

UNICEF delivers emergency support to communities recovering from category 5 Cyclone Winston.

Updated 11:30am on Friday, 26 February.

Fiji is reeling from the worst storm in its history, after Tropical Cyclone Winston tore a devastating path through island communities.

Category 5 TC Winston made landfall on Saturday, 20 February, with heavy rains, storm surges and extremely destructive wind gusts of over 300 kmph.

Entire villages have been wiped out, thousands of homes have been damaged and 22,600 people are living in evacation centres. Hospitals have been disrupted by flooding and roof damage, 67 schools have been destroyed or severely damaged, while some communities have had their water supplies cut off.

UNICEF launched a rapid response to immediate needs for water, sanitation and health supplies, with particular concern for children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
Within the first 24 hours of the Fiji Government's request for assistance, UNICEF gave 3,000 people access to safe drinking water and distributed emergency health kits, tents and education supplies to the worst affected outer islands.
An aerial photo taken by the New Zealand Defence Force reveals terrible destruction in a coastal community. Image via the Fijian Government.

UNICEF Pacific's Joseph Hing travelled with the first shipment of emergency supplies to Koro Island, one of the hardest hit areas. “The scale of the destruction is overwhelming," he said.

"I spoke to countless people who have lost everything. Their lives have been turned utterly upside down."

“I spoke to a grandmother, whose young grandson was nearly swept away by the storm surge. She told me ‘you can lose all your material belongings but what’s more important is our life’”.

Damage to road, bridges, ports and communications networks is making it difficult to assess and respond to needs in the worst affected areas but UNICEF is urgently scaling up its response to reach remote and vulnerable communities.

"Imagine the situation of a family that lives low near a river in a tin shack," explained UNICEF Pacific's Alice Clements.

"They have crops that they grow and depend on to survive. It’s very possible that a cyclone has destroyed those through water logging. Those same crops are ones that they would sell at the market to make some income. So if their house has been destroyed from flash flooding from the nearby river, then that leaves no food, no home, and no livelihood. It’s likely too that children's educations will be affected by these family setbacks."

Adi, 13, and her 4-year-old brother Waisake survived the cyclone but lost their home in Yasawa Islands. 

"I was with my family...then I saw our house starting to collapse," she remembered. "I grabbed my brother Waisake and we run. I was so scared. We run from house to house three times. Now I am heartbroken to see the house where I was born and raised in, in pieces".

Five ways UNICEF is helping right now:

  • Providing water tanks, purification tablets and jerry cans to ensure safe access to drinking water and prevent outbreaks of disease.
  • Making health kits and nutrition supplies available to thousands.
  • Delivering tarpaulins to 1,000 people in need of temporary shelter.
  • Setting up Child-Friendly Spaces to keep kids off the street and away from danger.
  • Preparing school supplies so children who have lost everything can get back to school and learning again.
Your donation today can equip UNICEF with lifesaving supplies for children in crisis. In the unlikely event that funds raised for Cyclone Winston relief exceed the need, UNICEF will use your donation where it is needed most.


People living on Fiji's outer islands were the first to feel the cyclone's ferocious force, with some posting shocking videos to social media.

The capital Suva, which is the hub for both the national government and international response actors, was not hit directly but experienced damaging winds.

While Tonga was impacted in the previous week, damage was more limited. 135 houses were damaged and 17 destroyed, while four schools were also damaged.

This cyclone season has been intensified by the extreme impacts of El NiƱo and teams across the region have been working for months to ensure UNICEF is as prepared as possible to respond immediately.

"The reiteration of preparedness messages from all sectors of society certainly ensured people were informed and as prepared as they could be," said Ms Clements.

"Just last week 25 teachers and senior officials from the Ministry of Education were trained by UNICEF as first assessors and responders so their training will immediately be put to use in response to TC Winston. This once again reiterates that preparedness does work and actions like this will help Fiji to recover together.” 

Fast facts on Fiji

  • Population of 887,000, including 301,000 children.
  • 330 islands, around 110 of which are inhabited.
  • 47 per cent child poverty in rural areas: double the prevalence in urban areas (22 per cent).
  • Ranked 88 out of 187 countries and territories according to 2014 Human Development Indicators.

How we've helped lately

UNICEF has been working in the Pacific for more than 50 years and continues to help Fiji through some of its toughest times.
  • In 2012, Cyclone Evan caused unprecedented flooding that displaced 15,000 people. UNICEF distributed water and sanitation kits and assisted partners to prepare for any disease outbreaks.
  • In 2013 UNICEF supported the “Get Ready, Disasters Happen” campaign which promoted life-saving interpersonal and multimedia messages for use in the country before, during and after an emergency.
  • In 2014, UNICEF assisted Fiji in its response to a drought, including distribution of micronutrient powder to infants.
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