Suva, 24 April 2020 – Thousands of children living in the Pacific Islands remain in urgent need in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Harold, a category five cyclone that tore through Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga causing widespread destruction to homes, schools, medical clinics, as well as damaging food crops and water supplies.
UNICEF is supporting the government responses in Vanuatu, Fiji and Solomon Islands to reach those children most in need, while facing the additional challenges of the ongoing preparedness and response efforts for COVID-19.
“It is hard to imagine a more difficult situation, the catastrophe of COVID-19 and the disaster of a category five cyclone all wrapped into one. However, we are here to support, and our work has never been more critical – we will continue to prioritise the needs of all communities, especially children, affected by these dual emergencies,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett.
The cyclone has caused massive destruction across the region, claiming the lives of 31 people. Vanuatu was the most affected, with more than a third of the population and over 20,000 children living in the worst affected areas. In Sanma Province alone, about 90 per cent of the population lost their homes and 60 per cent of schools were damaged.
Access to health services in Vanuatu, difficult under normal conditions with geographical and logistical challenges, are even harder to access following the destruction of roads and damage to health facilities, with many pregnant women now having to give birth at home.
Local authorities are organising relief efforts, which come at a particularly challenging time given the COVID-19 pandemic.
With support from both the Government of Australia and the European Union to provide air transport for critically needed supplies, UNICEF continues to work in partnership with the Pacific governments to provide assistance to support relief efforts and reach those children most vulnerable after the disaster. Many communities still remain cut off from assistance due to flooding and destruction of roads. UNICEF is transporting supplies by boat to reach some communities, including to those on Santo and Pentecost, two of the most affected islands in Vanuatu.
UNICEF has provided essential water, sanitation and hygiene items including soap, water containers and buckets to ensure children and families have access to clean drinking water with the majority of water infrastructure now destroyed. Emergency health and midwifery kits including basic drugs, medical supplies and equipment have also been delivered to assist the health sector provide critical medical care.
In addition, UNICEF continues to support communities by providing school-in-boxes and early childhood development kits including books, pencils and materials to support learning needs and help children to regain a sense of normalcy as soon as possible after the disaster. Tents and tarpaulins provided to communities will also assist in restarting children’s learning and provide families with emergency shelter.
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For more information about UNICEF Australia and our domestic, regional and global response to COVID-19, visit unicef.org.au/covid-19-pandemic