Oxfam water filters arrive in Fiji for Cyclone Winston response

Oxfam water filtering equipment that will be vital in preventing the spread of waterborne disease in the weeks following Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston has arrived on the ground in Fiji, as Oxfam steps up its response.

The destructive force of the storm left at least 41 people dead, whole villages destroyed, and 117 schools damaged or wiped out.  More than 50,000 people are sheltering in nearly 800 evacuation centres around the country. An estimated 350,000 people live within the ‘very destructive’ zone 50 kilometres either side of the path of the eye of the storm.

Oxfam in Fiji Country Director Dolores Devesi said Oxfam was gearing up its aid efforts as the full scale of the destruction became clearer.

“This is the strongest Cyclone Fiji has ever seen and the impacts are horrific.  The death toll continues to climb every day as contact is made with communities on outlying islands, and the humanitarian needs are huge and widespread,” Dolores Devesi said.

Two portable water filters arrived in Suva on Wednesday, along with an Oxfam water and sanitation specialist. Two more water filters will arrive this weekend.

“Many people in Fiji rely on groundwater from wells, which have been polluted with mud and debris from the flooding,” Devesi said. 

“One of our first priorities is to get these water filtering units up and running so communities have clean water for drinking and hand washing.  This is critical to prevent waterborne diseases from spreading.”

Oxfam will be assisting with the delivery of water and hygiene kits to evacuation centres.

 “There are currently 50,000 people in evacuation centres, and that number is growing. It’s very crowded.  So there’s a risk that the toilets and water supplies won’t be adequate to cope with the number of people in the centres,” Devesi said. 

“This brings an increased risk of a diarrhoea outbreak.”

While stronger buildings and homes fared better in the gusts up to 325kph, it’s no surprise that people in the informal settlements, or slums, have been severely affected.  With makeshift houses created from scrap materials, some settlements have been completely destroyed.

“Local authorities are carrying out rapid assessments now.  Oxfam is coordinating with the government, our partners and other humanitarian organisations to share vital information from teams on the ground.  That enables us to identify gaps and work to cover them,” Devesi said. 

Notes to editors

Oxfam is appealing for funds from the public to help reach communities hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston with vital emergency aid. Donations can be made online at https://www.oxfam.org.au/my/donate/cyclone-tears-through-fiji/.

Contact information

Angus Hohenboken on +61 428367318 or angush@oxfam.org.au.

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.