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The day after Cyclone Pam hit, it felt like we were walking around in a bad dream.
The night before, as we waited for the cyclone to hit, it all seemed a bit anticlimactic. We played cards and ate dinner. We turned on the radio every hour so, listening to updates on where the storm was headed.
Then things began to get scary.
About 11pm, the power went off. We loitered around the kitchen, pretending we couldn’t hear the crashing outside, or that the movement of the ceiling was normal.
It was a long night.
When we woke the next morning, the radio wasn’t transmitting. There was no cellphone reception. It was still a bit windy, but there were no sounds of things crashing everywhere. We removed the barricade from the main door and went outside.
I have never seen so much destruction.
A tree had fallen less than metre from where I had been sleeping. It took six of us four hours to cut it away, so we could get our vehicle out of the driveway.
Across Vanuatu, it seemed all the trees were down. Boats had been blown up on the land. Roofs and guttering were ripped off, causing saltwater and debris to contaminate drinking water. People showered beneath the gutters and the rain.
There was a lot to do. Red Cross staff and volunteers helped out in any way they could, assessing damage, delivering relief supplies and helping people track down lost family members.
For me, the focus was on water. As a water, hygiene and sanitation engineer, I know that one of the biggest challenges after a cyclone is accessing clean and safe drinking water.
Immediately after Cyclone Pam, Red Cross distributed more than 40,000 litres of safe drinking water and thousands of water storage units.
In the year since the cyclone, we have worked to repair water systems across the country, ensuring communities have a safe, sustainable supply of water. Rainwater harvesting systems have been built in several communities, and we’re also investigating installing small-scale piped systems on some islands.
However, the recovery in Vanuatu is far from over. It’s currently the wet season, but there has been little rain. A severe El Niño event has brought hot and dry conditions to the country, hampering the efforts of the country to recover and rebuild.
Without rain to fill them, water harvesting systems aren’t much use. Natural spring sources have decreased, and water shortages are causing crop failures and food shortages.
Despite this, the people of Vanuatu continue to smile. They refuse to give up, and their energy inspires me every day. The can-do attitude of the communities we’ve worked with, together with the perseverance of our team here at Red Cross, have been instrumental in rebuilding the lives of those affected by Cyclone Pam.