(Vatican Radio) The Fijian government and aid agencies began delivering much needed aid on Wednesday to the Pacific nation's remote islands and coastal villages devastated by a powerful cyclone that killed 42 people.
The death toll has crept up in the days since Cyclone Winston struck Fiji late on Saturday as communication has gradually been restored with the outer reaches of the archipelago.
Thousands of people are still sheltering in evacuation centers, their homes destroyed by winds or flooded by the most powerful storm to ever strike a Pacific nation.
Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Tini Tuala, Caritas coordinator for Oceania about the emergency:
Tini Tuala says that the immediate most urgent need is for shelter as thousands have been left without a roof over their heads.
He points out that in “some areas electricity is not working and it will take time to be restored. In other areas electricity is ok but the water supplies are not”.
He says that food supplies will soon be insufficient and that is a short and long-term concern.
Tini says the cyclone was very powerful and caused widespread devastation throughout the archipelago.
So, he says, humanitarian assistance is now providing shelter, food and water, but thinking ahead: the recovery process is bound to take a long time.
The population of Fiji is around 900,000 and Tini says many have been affected while the death toll continues to rise.
Due to the fact that many of the smaller islands are currently very difficult to reach, Tini points out that a definitive assessment of the damage and ensuing needs has still not been fully established.
He comments on the fact that Caritas Oceania has in fact been preparing for the effects of changing climate patterns and natural disasters as the islands are on the forefront of climate change.
“We are prepared, we have been prepared for this kind of phenomenon” he says.
He points to the fact that the whole of Papua New Guinea has recently experienced the effects of the “El Nino” phenomenon and the resulting drought which has caused much havoc. He says that in Tonga and Samoa the temperature rise has had a huge effect on the life of the inhabitants and has caused the governments and aid organizations “having to foresee a cyclone or two”.
As for concerns regarding the fact that the lack of fresh water and damage to infrastructure can give rise to cases of dengue fever and the zika virus, Tini says: “we didn’t have to wait for the cyclone to be aware of that”.
He explains that the populations of Fiji and adjacent areas have already been subjected to the spread of diseases brought by mosquitoes.
“These things are happening in our part of the world and I think they are caused by changing weather patterns” he says.
Tini expresses his heartfelt feelings of closeness to the population in Fiji and assures them that “Caritas Oceania will do everything in our capability to assist them and to walk with them in this time”.