Oxfam water and hygiene expert Carlos Calderon has landed in Fiji, where Oxfam is gearing up its aid efforts following the complete destruction left by Cyclone Winston.
Thirty-six people have been confirmed dead, whole villages destroyed, 65 schools have been damaged or wiped out, and nearly 35,000 people are sheltering in 424 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.
“This is the strongest cyclone I’ve been involved with. At a minimum, it was as bad as Cyclone Pam last year. The numbers of dead and injured will keep going up as reports from remote areas come in,” said Calderon.
Oxfam is bringing two water filtering units to Fiji, with the possibility of bringing more later. Each unit is capable of filtering 1200 litres of contaminated water per hour.
“Many people in Fiji rely on groundwater from wells, which have been polluted with mud and debris from the flooding. 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,” said Calderon.
Toilets are also a major concern. Pit latrines involve a hole dug in the ground, with walls and a roof over the top. But many of those superstructures above the ground will have blown away, causing people to stop using the toilets because of a lack of privacy. They then resort to “open defecation” behind trees, bushes or buildings that are still standing.
“There are currently almost 35,000 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,” said Calderon.
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 on Viti Levu were 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,” said Calderon.
Oxfam has further staff on standby in Australia, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
Oxfam is appealing for funds from the public to help reach more communities with vital emergency aid. Donations can be made online at oxfam.org.nz or by calling 0800 600 700.