Monday 22 February 2016
Media and Communications Office
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, supported by Caritas Oceania agencies including Caritas Australia and Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is responding in Fiji, following the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston. The category five storm is thought to be one of the strongest ever hit the Southern Hemisphere with winds gusting to 300 kilometres per hour.
The cyclone left a trail of destruction in its wake and wreaked havoc in the Tongan islands of Vava'u and Ha'apai on Friday as it moved towards Fiji on Saturday evening. Caritas Tonga is responding with pre-positioned emergency supplies and continues to assess and respond to the needs of the community as it emerges.
In Fiji, the Archdiocese of Suva through the Commission for Justice and Development is assessing the damage and planning a coordinated response. Shelter is a major priority and there are an estimated 750 evacuation centres around the country. The Caritas network, part of one of the largest humanitarian networks in the world, remains ready to respond in Fiji as needs become clearer.
"We do a lot of disaster preparedness work right across the Pacific. Preparing communities to be first-responders in emergencies is a fundamental part of our humanitarian work, and makes a significant difference when natural disasters hit," said Caritas Australia’s Pacific Programs Manager, Stephanie Lalor
Caritas Australia’s partner Peoples Community Network (PCN) in Fiji, works in informal settlements where many of the poorest and most marginalised have been impacted. PCN are urgently assessing the damage but initial reports indicate these low-lying communities have been hit hard.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all the communities, friends and partners in Fiji and the region where the tropical Cyclone Winston has made landfall. We remain in close contact with our partner organisations on the ground, ready to provide support where necessary,” said Ms Lalor.
The Church plays a key role in reaching out to the most vulnerable communities, particularly those on the margins in the outlying islands. “Winston has left behind extensive damage to homes, public office, businesses, trees, crops, roads, electricity lines, telephones and bridges,” said Iosefo Nainima, Archdiocese of Suva’s Director for Justice and Development.
“Most of the villages along its path are completely destroyed with sea walls washed away. The most immediate needs would be tarpaulin, blankets, food, farming equipment and seedlings for vegetables,” he said from Suva.
Caritas staff in Tonga are working in Vava'u and Ha'apai to monitor situation and assess damage and needs. In Fiji the Caritas network is prepared to respond as needed and the assessment of needs has now began.
After responding to immediate needs following the cyclone, Caritas Australia is committed to accompanying Fiji and Tonga and other Pacific nations that remain vulnerable through the cyclone season. “We are encouraging our supporters to raise funds for our current Project Compassion Lenten Appeal which helps vulnerable Pacific communities such as Tonga and Fiji respond to emergencies build back stronger and prepare for future disasters,” said Ms Lalor.
Photos: Christine Conway, NZ Ministry Foreign Affairs