Virus lockdown puts brakes on Vanuatu cyclone relief

This hand out picture received from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Pacific taken on April 17, 2020 shows Vanuatui Red Cross distributing aid including shelter kits, kitchen supplies, food and water to the worst affected communities including on Santo and Pentecost Islands. – Tens of thousands of people remain homeless in Vanuatu a week after Tropical Cyclone Harold pummelled the impoverished Pacific nation, smashing houses and destroying crops, aid workers said. (Photo by – / various sources / AFP)

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (AFP) — Vanuatu’s rigid coronavirus lockdown is hindering critical relief efforts to rebuild the island country after it was pummelled by Tropical Cyclone Harold, aid agencies said Saturday.

Nearly two weeks after the deadly monster storm barrelled through the South Pacific, local media reported that newly homeless families were still sleeping in the open.

Australia, New Zealand and China have rushed in emergency aid but distribution has been hampered by strict quarantine requirements after Vanuatu — one of the few remaining countries without confirmed COVID-19 infections — closed its borders.

Aid agencies said around a third of the country’s 300,000 people were in need of emergency shelter.

But humanitarian workers were struggling to get supplies to those most in need, said Jacqueline De Gaillande, the Red Cross secretary general in Vanuatu.

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on April 10, 2020 using handout satellite images released by Maxar Technologies on April 10, 2020 shows an overview of Luganville, in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, on September 7, 2019 (above) and on April 10, 2020, after the passage of Cyclone Harold. – Tropical Cyclone Harold’s trail of destruction through four Pacific nations could threaten a rise in disease, authorities warned on April 10, as stretched health services struggled under the added burden of the coronavirus. (Photos by Handout / Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies / AFP)

She said damage in some areas was worse than that of Cyclone Pam five years ago, which wiped out almost two-thirds of the country’s economic capacity in Vanuatu’s worst recorded natural disaster.

“It will be very hard for the economy to come back. We need to have a recovery period which will last at least a year,” she told AFP.

Oxfam’s Pacific regional director Raijeli Nicole said the aid sent to help Vanuatu’s recovery were “not getting to the communities, or women or people with disabilities who need it most.”

This handout photo taken and released by the Tonga Police on April 9, 2020 shows damage to a tourist resort cause by Tropical Cyclone Harold in the Hihifo coastal area. – A resurgent Tropical Cyclone Harold flattened tourist resorts in Tonga on April 9, extending a week-long trail of destruction across four South Pacific island nations that has claimed more than two dozen lives. (Photo by Handout / TONGA POLICE / AFP

Winds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph) slammed into Vanuatu, severely damaging hospitals and homes, leaving communities cut off by flooding and roads blocked by fallen trees.

Prime Minister Charlot Salwai has appealed to provincial government officials to step in immediately to coordinate the distribution of relief supplies.

© Agence France-Presse