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May 29 marks 100 days since Tropical Cyclone Winston devastated large parts of Fiji. The category 5 cyclone, the worst in Fiji’s history, impacted 350,000 people - almost half Fiji’s population - and destroyed or damaged more than 30,000 homes. Fiji Red Cross has reached 63,000 people with emergency aid, but says there is still much to do.
“The world is quick to forget disasters when they are no longer in the news but the needs still out there are the needs that we found when we first went into some of these communities after the cyclone struck. People who lost homes are still living in tents or temporary shelters,” said Fiji Red Cross director general Filipe Nainoca.
Over the past 100 days, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Fiji Red Cross have provided people with emergency relief items including tarpaulins, blankets kitchen sets, water containers and family packs. In the coming nine months, Fiji Red Cross aims to reach 65,000 people with guidance on how to rebuild homes and will restore sanitation facilities together with a health and hygiene programme that includes disease prevention messaging and psychosocial support. Communities will also receive support to boost their livelihoods.
Since the cyclone, the Red Cross has noticed an upsurge in diseases like leptospirosis, dengue fever, diarrhoea, typhoid and conjunctivitis, caused by people drinking and coming into contact with dirty water. This is also linked to the close proximity people in temporary shelters are living in with each other and poor environmental sanitation which has led to an increase in mosquito breeding grounds.
Living through the cyclone has also had a lasting psychological impact on many people, particularly children.
“We still have reports of children diving under tables when there’s a thunderstorm, or being afraid to go out and play, and that’s not just in the affected communities - that’s in Suva as well,” said Filipe Nainoca. “Psychosocial support - helping communities overcome the emotional trauma they have experienced - is a very important part of what we are doing to restore a sense of normality in people’s lives.”
Hundreds of people across villages that suffered the worst of the storm have benefited from psychosocial support provided by Fiji Red Cross staff and volunteers and according to Health Coordinator Marica Kepa, this has been one of the great successes of the response to date.
“Psychosocial support has been our biggest achievement– going back into communities and just listening and talking to people can make a big difference to their well-being. If needed we refer them on to the relevant authorities if they require further professional help,” said Ms Kepa.
A mother and daughter from Nukubalavu village in Savusavu, Makarita and Lusiana Racani, say the young Fiji Red Cross volunteers who provided them with psychosocial support after the cyclone are their heroes.
“My mother kept re-living the moment and shaking when she talked about it,” says Lusiana. “But after the girls visited a couple of times I only feel relief. Relief, because I know that I shared everything that was in my heart. And also my mum, she’s very happy now and so thankful to these volunteers,” she smiles.
Another successful psychosocial support initiative was a puppet tour of affected schools that Fiji Red Cross conducted with a visiting puppeteer from New Zealand.
“That was a real breakthrough,” said Marica Kepa. “The happiness the puppeteer brought gave a new lease of life to the kids and he cleverly worked in messaging around staying healthy and safe. Even now, weeks later, children are still talking about it,” she said.
According to Filipe Nainoca the speed of recovery has been different in each community. Some have cleaned up and moved on, some have come to a standstill while others haven’t even begun.
“We are going into these communities and re-energising them in whatever way we can, whether it’s helping them with the clean-up or helping them to focus mentally,” he said.
“But there is still so much to do."