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6 March 2023

Children and families in Vanuatu are entering their fifth day without access to safe water, following the destruction of two tropical cyclones and an earthquake.

Alice Hall Director of International Programs for UNICEF Australia said more than 58,000 children are estimated to be impacted in the emergency zone.

“UNICEF knows from emergency experience around the globe that a lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation can quickly lead to diarrheal illnesses, and spread of water-borne disease. Children are particularly vulnerable to this, especially if they have pre-existing health concerns” she said.

UNICEF is working with partners on the ground to coordinate distribution of emergency supplies, based on identified needs, from UNICEF’s warehouse in Vanuatu including water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, as well as first aid and female hygiene kits. In the short term water systems will need to be checked and restored.

The first batch of humanitarian supplies was delivered to 450 people in Shefa Province and over the coming days, a further 1,000 families in the area will receive emergency supplies, including dignity kits, buckets and tarpaulins.

The full extent of destruction is still being assessed, but healthcare facilities and schools have suffered damage, and UNICEF is currently shipping tents, tarpaulins, and education kits from Fiji to ensure children in worst affected areas have safe spaces to learn and play, restoring a sense of normality and access to essential services.

Children in the worst affected provinces of Tafea and Shefa in particular, need urgent help to recover. Many have lost their homes, schools, neighbourhoods and all things familiar in their lives. Psychosocial support and other child protection services need to be established as quickly as possible to allow children to return to a sense of normalcy.

“UNICEF has been in Vanuatu for more than four decades supporting the health, education and protection of children. We are coordinating with the Government and partners on responding where the need is greatest, with a focus on the outer islands, and we will continue to support children and families in Vanuatu as they recover,” Ms Hall said.

“Vanuatu, like many countries across the Pacific, is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Throughout this emergency response and beyond, UNICEF is committed to both meeting the immediate needs of children and families, and strengthening health, education and social protection systems to create more climate resilient communities,” she said.

Australians can support children impacted by emergencies by donating to: