From the Anglican Alliance
Cyclone Pam struck the islands of Vanuatu in the Pacific with devastating force on Friday night (13 March 2015), ravaging many communities. As the Anglican Alliance, we encourage the Communion to come together at this time in prayer and support as the Church helps people affected by this tragic disaster.
The category five cyclone hit Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu on the central island of Efate, on Friday evening with winds of 250 km/hr and gusts up to 320 km/hr causing catastrophic destruction. The cyclone then moved south hitting Erromango and Tanna islands with similar catastrophic impact. Other islands in the Pacific have also been impacted by the current storms.
Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 people spread over 65 islands. About 47,000 people live in the capital of Port Vila.
At least half of the population, or about 130,000 people, has been affected, according to the Vanuatu Red Cross Society. UNICEF estimates that at least 60,000 children across the country could be at risk.
Much infrastructure has been damaged: most roads are flooded or blocked by fallen trees, 80% of power lines are estimated to be down in Port Vila, and most telephone, mobile and internet networks are not functioning. Even Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) HF radio system has been damaged, meaning that contact with the provinces has been lost. Although badly damaged, the main hospital in Port Vila is operational.
The entire country has likely been affected, to some extent, by the extremely damaging winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges and flooding. On Efate, the most populous island, UN OCHA reports an estimated 90 per cent of structures are either damaged or destroyed. Access to the most affected areas of Efate province is blocked as the Teouma bridge has been badly damaged and affected by a flash flood.
There is concern for the most southerly islands that were hit by the eye of the storm and are currently without communication.
Melanesian Church Responds
The Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM), with two dioceses in Vanuatu, has developed staff skilled in disaster preparedness and response, in collaboration with Anglican agencies. These skills brought both resilience and effectiveness to ACOM’s response to flash flooding in the Solomon Islands last year and will be invaluable as the Church now responds to the current terrible disaster in Vanuatu.
Archbishop David Vunagi, Provincial Primate based in the Solomon Islands, has been in touch with the Anglican Alliance to discuss the situation and how we can, as the Anglican family, stand in solidarity at this time through prayer and support.
Dr Abraham Hauriasi, ACOM General Secretary, writes to the Anglican Alliance: “It is profoundly distressing what we are seeing and hearing in the media, especially for our people in Vanuatu. We are still trying to get in touch with our offices in Vanuatu to see what immediate assistance we can provide. As with the floods last year, a coordinated response is required and it would be greatly appreciated if the Anglican Alliance could facilitate a similar conference call for all ACOM partners across the Communion. In the meantime, we shall try and gather as much information as we can get, including talking to our people on the ground as to how our response can be better coordinated and in what form.”
Anglican Partners Launch Appeals
Anglican partners have launched appeals, and will be working with ACOM and using their established Church networks in Vanuatu to respond.
Julianne Stewart, programs director of the Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) in Australia, writes: “ABM is working within a coordinated response with other ecumenical partners with whom we've worked for the last five years in development programs in Vanuatu under the umbrella of the Church Partnership Program. This enables churches and their Australian NGO partners to share expertise and really target the areas of greatest need, and avoid duplications, have economies of scale, share assessments, etc.
The Church Partnership Program have Australian staff present in-country, whose expertise and connections we can tap into, and support ACOM to tap into as well, and to be part of the overall coordination body, the Vanuatu Humanitarian Team, based in Port Vila.”
Julianne commented that Pentecost and Ambae islands are likely to be a focus for response. These are well populated northern islands that were hit by the cyclone as it moved south through Vanuatu.
Sabene Gomez, Pacific programs manager for Anglican Overseas Aid (AOA) in Australia, says they are trying to get through to the northern islands, and are raising funds to help cope with what they expect to find when they do. “The church really has the networks, so has the reach to the communities,” she said on ABC news today.
Anglican Missions (AMB) in New Zealand has launched a ‘Cyclone Pam Emergency Appeal’ to assist with relief efforts in the Pacific region, particularly in Vanuatu. They report that while details are still sketchy, it is clear this is one of the worst disasters ever experienced in the South Pacific region. AMB is working with churches and relief agencies to help coordinate relief efforts.
The Primate's Fund for World Relief and Development (Cananda) has already made a significant pledge towards the Vanuatu response, through the ACT Alliance appeal.
In launching an appeal through the Melanesian Mission, Katie Drew writes “We have not been able to make contact with the Anglican Church in Vanuatu yet, but once we do, we want to be able to support those affected as soon as we can.”
Other Anglican and Episcopal agencies will likely follow up with their own appeals in coming days.
The Anglican Alliance will continue to connect closely with The Anglican Church of Melanesia and its two dioceses in Vanuatu - and will share this information and prayer requests with ACOM's partners around the Communion, through media and conference calls.
Prayers from the Melanesian Mission and Mother's Union.