Villagers hungry as cyclone destroys Vanuatu crops

2015-03-20 13:21
A picture showing children outside their destroyed homes in the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila.(Unicef Pacific, AFP)

A picture showing children outside their destroyed homes in the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila.(Unicef Pacific, AFP)

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Taounono - Since Cyclone Pam destroyed all her family's crops, Eunice Narua has had one source of food for her meals – banana. And in storm-hit Vanuatu there are fears that even homegrown fare will run out within days.

In Narua's village of Taounono on the outskirts of the capital Port Vila, banana trees are broken in half, their trunks protruding from the ground and large green leaves strewn across fields.

"I took the bananas that were knocked down and put them in a saucepan, and I've eaten them for five days," Narua told AFP in the wake of the cyclone that tore through the Pacific nation last Friday night.

Taounono's chief representative Joe Kwanu said without donations from local churches, which have brought rice to his village, they might have struggled to feed themselves.

"I'm asking the NDMO (National Disaster Management Office) for help," Kwanu said, but added that with many villages in the same situation, it could be some time before more aid arrived.

Since the storm hit, wrecking crops in a country where most people survive by growing their own produce, the government and aid agencies have warned they could soon run out of food.

"Cyclone Pam... has severely impacted the ability of our population to feed itself," Agriculture Minister David Tosul said, adding that "aerial and on-ground assessments confirm that bananas and other fruiting trees have been destroyed outright".

"In short, our agricultural experts estimate that Vanuatu's people will run out of food in less than one week from today, and our government must start distributions immediately."

Local crops – such as manioc, tapioca and taro – make up most Vanuatuan's diets but were obliterated by the cyclone, which packed winds of up to 320km and brought torrential rain.

Prices spike

The situation is compounded by Vanuatu's geography. The country is a sprawling archipelago of more than 80 islands, of which 65 are populated, making the task of delivering food quickly to far flung outposts difficult.

At the same time, with months before new seedlings planted now can be harvested, populations needed food aid longer-term, national disaster committee deputy chair Benjamin Shing said this week.

Tom Perry of CARE Australia said a large shipment of tinned food, water, seeds and hygiene supplies would reach hard-hit Tanna Island in Vanuatu's south on Friday.

"This is a huge logistical challenge. Our initial aim is to have enough food for the next three months," Perry said, adding that his aid agency was working with the southern provincial government to support their emergency relief plans.

Other humanitarian organisations and the militaries of neighbouring countries including Australia and New Zealand are also delivering food and water shipments by planes and boats.

The shortage of food has pushed up prices of what's left.

Near Taounono village, dozens of men pull small fishes from a net on the beach, giving them to women who string six together using pieces of bark torn from a tree branch.

Before the cyclone, one "rope" would hold 10 fish and cost 100 vatu (92 US cents). Now, 100 vatu buys only six fish.

The price of kava, a mildly narcotic herbal drink popular in Vanuatu and made from a local root, has likewise shot up as the pepper plant it is extracted from was devastated by the cyclone.

One kilogramme of the root, which is chopped up into small pieces, costs 500 vatu, up from 350 vatu before the disaster.

Ian Karie, 31, has found a way to feed his village.

The wild pig hunter usually shoots the animals once a week, but has started to head out more often.

"I'm eating wild pigs almost every day," Karie told AFP in Taounono, adding that his usual diet would include more local crops.

Amid the food shortage, Karie said his greatest concern was not about feeding himself, but children in the village.

"We are worried about the children... they need three meals a day," he said.

Read more on:    vanuatu  |  weather  |  cyclones
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