Cyclone Pam also caused varying degrees of destruction in the neighbouring countries of Tuvalu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, prompting New Zealand Red Cross to set up an emergency appeal for all five affected nations.

Vanuatu Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has played a leading role in relief efforts in Vanuatu, reaching more than 20,000 people with emergency aid. The main focus has been on distributing family kits, which contain emergency shelter materials such as tarpaulins together with personal hygiene items, kitchen sets, sleeping mats, water containers and other household items.

“Over the past month we managed to deliver relief supplies to affected people spread across 15 islands. Some communities were as small as 20 households. They were very remote and hard to reach”, explains Frido Herinckx, who led the IFRC’s team in Vanuatu. 

Transport was limited as many boats had been damaged. It was a scramble to secure sea vessels and helicopters, so our tactic was to undertake rapid assessments and carry out distributions in one go.

After the cyclone, Vanuatu Red Cross was the first organisation to receive government approval to begin relief distributions. A team of more than 200 local volunteers joined staff from Vanuatu Red Cross to deliver the relief materials with support from 20 international Red Cross staff, including eight Kiwi aid workers.

“We are very pleased with the achievements of the Red Cross and the way they have worked to support the overall response and assist communities in need,” says Shadrack Welegtabit, director of the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Organisation. “They coordinated closely with our office in conducting assessments and in delivering emergency supplies to many villages”.

Sagaitu (Etu) Josaia from Fiji Red Cross was deployed to Vanuatu as a member of the Red Cross Regional Disaster Response Team. Etu says he was glad to be able to share his knowledge and experience with another Pacific island national society in their time of crisis.

“In Fiji I have experienced similar challenges in reaching remote populations in need, like travelling with relief supplies for days on boats to deliver assistance,” says Etu. “When you reach an island and see a village chief almost crying with appreciation that they haven’t been forgotten, it’s a very powerful thing. It motivates me in my work.”

Now that the emergency phase of the Red Cross operation is nearing completion attention is shifting towards meeting longer term needs.

“Among other things, we plan on helping families to build back safer and stronger homes and we will be supporting improvements to local water catchment systems”, explains Jacqueline De Gaillande, CEO of Vanuatu Red Cross. ”Disaster risk reduction must be central to our recovery efforts. This covers early warning systems, health education and training in first aid. Our focus is on building the resilience of communities so that people can cope better if such disasters happen again in the future.”