Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

More than three months after cyclone Pam devastated the country, much remains to be done. Governor General of Australia Peter Cosgrove’s visit to Port Vila and Tanna highlighted the continuing need of Vanuatu’s affected population.

Anyone who claims that Tanna has received an unfair amount of aid has only to visit the island to see how wrong they are. The destruction on the island was widespread, and even now, signs of damage are everywhere. Lenakel hospital is still struggling with the after effects of the cyclone, and continuing health issues in the communities only compound the problem.

Melmel Lawawa, from south Tanna, is barely one year old. She has an extensive skin infection and has just arrived in hospital. Her family home was destroyed during the cyclone. While the family has received food support, they have yet to receive tools or materials to help with the reconstruction of their home. She lives in cramped, unsanitary conditions, and now her suffering is adding to the workload at the hospital.

But Lenakel hospital is also facing challenges with water and sanitation. Several large capacity fibreglass water tanks were blown off their bases and sent careening down the hillside by the cyclone’s unprecedented winds. Staff at the hospital claim they’re doing what they can, but current water capacity is severely limited, sometimes running out by lunchtime.

Some hospital staff characterise the lack of a properly functioning water system as the biggest challenge they face, but aid workers also blamed the lack of doctors—a problem that preceded the cyclone.

Aid workers and local volunteers agree that, by and large, emergency food distribution on Tanna was conducted well. There were a few hiccups, caused largely by communication challenges and the difficulty of tracking displaced people. But local monitoring and evaluation staff with CARE report that food supply is a waning concern. Root crops and similar staples are still restricted. They cannot be sold at Lenakel market, but the market itself is operating and green produce is readily available.

Two women and a child in the entrance to a half-constructed building in Lenakel, Tanna

Two women and child sit in the entrance to a half-constructed building in Lenakel, Tanna

‘What we see here on Tanna is mightily impressive,’ said Governor General Peter Cosgrove. A veteran of numerous large-scale relief operations during his career in the Australian military, Mr Cosgrove was pleased with the way the relief effort has been handled so far. But, he said, there is ‘lots of work still to be done.’

‘It’s always difficult,’ he continued, ‘in transitioning from what I’ll call immediate rehabilitation into recovery.’

The C130 Hercules flight that brought the governor general to Tanna was loaded with equipment including several tonnes of materials to help rebuild Lenakel hospital. It did not carry equipment to rebuild the water system, however.

The government of Vanuatu conducted a detailed site assessment of the hospital two weeks ago, and work is under way to repair the hospital’s water, but the department of Health’s capital plan will take time to develop and deliver. In the mean time, Tanna continues to struggle.