One Year on- Recovering After Cyclone Pam

A field officer poses with his tomato crop in Teouma village, Vanuatu
Oliver Lato, a Senior Field Officer with an Oxfam partner organization, with his crops in Teouma village, Vanuatu. Photo: Arlene Bax

On Friday 13th March 2015 a devastating, Category 5 cyclone, hit Vanuatu. The cyclone’s eye passed close to Efate Island, where the capital is located, and winds are estimated to have reached 250kmph with gusts peaking at 320kmph.

More than 15,000 homes were damaged and 180,000 people affected. In some areas trees three stories high were completely uprooted and many small communities were left with barely any homes still standing. The poorest families, those living in makeshift shelters are the ones who lost the most when their homes were swept away by the cyclone. Schools and hospitals were also damaged, water tanks blown away and water sources contaminated.

Two women eating watermelon in Epau, Vanuatu

Anny James and Oxfam staff member Rinneth Boekokona enjoy some watermelon from Anny’s garden in Epau, Vanuatu. Photo: Arlene Bax

Anny James was taking shelter inside her home in Epau village with her parents and three children. They listened in horror as scraps of corrugated iron and tree branches flew around outside, crashing into their neighbours’ homes and battering their small shelter.

“I told my children that we have to go under the bed. We have just one bed — one single bed — so we squeezed ourselves under” she said.

In the aftermath Anny benefitted from the Oxfam voucher system as part of our food and climate justice work. The vouchers aimed to help families to recover their livelihoods and lost assets. The vouchers could be exchanged with local suppliers for farming and building materials and other general goods which helped people to rebuild and replant. “Oxfam helped the community, [especially] the widows, single mothers and orphans. They helped clean up the village and replant trees around the coastal areas” said Anny.

Real recovery

A mother and her son collect water from an Oxfam tank after Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu

Merelyn Willy, 21, and her 3 year old son Joseph stand in front of a water tank installed in their village by Oxfam. Photo: Vlad Sokhin

After the emergency response we have been working to ensure on-going recovery in Vanuatu. Along with the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam the country is also experiencing its worst drought in 20 years due to the impacts of a Super El Niño.

Consequently,we have integrated our Cyclone Pam recovery and El Niño response plans, especially in relation to water.

Access to clean water is key

Communities on the islands of Efate, Epi and Emae are the main focus of our Water, Sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program in Vanuatu. Our work has been led through community consultation and has given access to clean water to over 13,809 people. Infrastructure such as new toilets, hand washing stations and rainwater catchments were installed for 2,077 students in 28 schools and kindergartens

Almost 21,000 people on Efate, Epi and Ambryn islands have also received hygiene kits.

An Oxfam staff member constructing a latrine block in Eton, Vanuatu.

In Eton, Vanuatu, Bryna Palmer, an Oxfam staff member, is breaking the gender moulds of her culture. She is working to build and install toilet blocks in communities around Vanuatu. Photo: Arlene Bax

Gender equality

At Oxfam our focus on gender equality and protection has been to safely address the basic needs of all community members, including women, youth and people with disabilities.  We promote women’s empowerment and have worked to highlight and encourage women’s leadership in disaster response and recovery.

Oxfam has worked with women, men and male leaders to promote shared responsibilities build awareness of gender inequalities and support women’s roles and leadership in community committees.

We will continue to support communities to get through El Niño and to recover from Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2016 by expanding the number of communities and vulnerable people we are reaching with vital assistance.