The Red Cross launched an emergency appeal Tuesday for $3.9 million Swiss francs ($3.8 million) as the survivors of Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu are desperate for food, water and shelter. The Red Cross is among the relief organizations in the region scrambling to prevent the starvation and spread of disease that typically follow storm disasters.
A lack of access, as airstrips and harbors have been torn up by the cyclone, has only made aid efforts harder.
"We are extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of many communities affected by the cyclone, particularly in the more remote regions of the country that are only accessible by boat," said Aurélia Balpe, regional head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), according to Reuters.
Supplies desperately needed include food, water purification tablets, medical supplies, kitchen sets, blankets and tarpaulins. Survivors were reported to be scavenging and foraging for food even as stores remained open selling canned goods -- because many simply could not afford them. Desperate people also were reported to be drinking saltwater, which is harmful to one’s health. Without proper sanitation and clean water, disease can spread easily, said Oxfam country director Colin Collett van Rooyen, according to Agence France-Presse.
Australia, a longtime aid provider to Vanuatu, has played a big role in relief efforts to its neighbor 1,250 miles away. Besides dispatching eight planes to deliver personnel and supplies, Australia has also sent an emergency response ship capable of making beach landings to islands without airstrips or docking facilities. Oxfam Australia has launched a fundraiser, with 90 percent of the amount raised going into emergency response. Unicef in Australia also said Monday it needed $3.9 million for maternal and child health, nutrition, safety, schooling and recovery for the 60,000 children estimated to be in need of immediate assistance.
A charities watchdog, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission, has noticed that scammers have set up social media accounts under the name of well-known Australian charities, with some even linking to a phony donation app. “Australians are renowned for their generosity, donating billions of dollars to charity every year,” Commissioner Susan Pascoe said, according to News Corp. “Unfortunately, there are scammers prepared to take advantage of the public’s generous nature. By giving to a registered charity, people can protect themselves and their donations.”
The United Nations said Tuesday that the official death toll so far was 11, revised down from the original 24. However, over 80 percent of houses and buildings have been partially or completely destroyed, and 3,300 people have been left homeless so far. The government estimated that 130,000 people, or nearly half of the country’s population of 267,000, have been affected by the shortage of food, water and supplies. Officials anticipate the number of casualties and displaced people to rise once they are able to access Vanuatu’s outer islands, but the majority of the country’s six provinces were flooded and inaccessible. Communication was also patchy across the country, the IFRC said, according to Reuters.
Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu over the weekend with winds reaching up to 185 mph. The strength of the storm has been compared to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013.
"We will need all the help we can get in the coming weeks and months," said Jacqueline de Gaillande, chief executive of Red Cross Vanuatu, according to Reuters. "And we need it urgently. People are desperate for water, food and safe shelter, and time is of the essence."