By Adam Connors
As many as 55,000 people are still sheltering in some of the hundreds of evacuation centres set up in Fiji, nearly two weeks after Cyclone Winston damaged or destroyed their homes.
The category five system, one of the most powerful ever in the region, hit Fiji on February 20 with winds of up to 330 kilometres per hour.
The death toll remains at 43, with the latest United Nations situation report identifying 120,000 people in urgent need of shelter assistance, with up to 90 per cent of structures destroyed in some of the hardest hit areas.
Australia’s HMAS Canberra arrived in Fiji early this week, bringing the number of defence personnel in the country close to 1,000.
Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office Director Akapusi Tuifagalele told the Fiji Times the Australians had been using helicopters to distribute supplies to remote areas and islands inaccessible via roads.
“With the positioning of the two naval boats — the HMAS Canberra in the Lomaiviti Group and also the HMNZS Canterbury … we should be able to cover the rest of the areas that have not been provided with rations,” he said.
New Zealand has increased its medical and surgical team contribution after evaluating the situation in Fiji and considering how New Zealand can best support health needs there.
“Personnel from the ministry-led New Zealand Medical Assistance Team (NZMAT) … make up two surgical and two medical teams, which include nurses, surgeons, anaesthetists, emergency medicine specialists and a health planner,” said the NZ Ministry of Health’s Dr Stewart Jessamine in a statement on Wednesday.
“The number of personnel and the clinical skills of the NZMAT group we will be deploying makes this the largest and most complex health support program that New Zealand has provided in response to an emergency in the Pacific islands.”
The surgical teams will provide support to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva.
A medical team will be based on HMNZS Canterbury out of the Northern Lau Group of islands, while the second will be based on hard-hit Koro island.
Against that background the rebuilding effort has begun, with many people attempting to fix their own homes.
A specialist in international disaster risk-reduction has urged organisations helping Fiji rebuild after Cyclone Winston to ensure houses are now designed to withstand future disasters.
Professor David Sanderson of the University of New South Wales said it was important to not rebuild too cheaply or too fast.
“Over 24,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, so there’s a large task ahead,” he said.
“For the recovery to be the best it can be, it’s aid agencies supporting people to rebuild safely, as opposed — if you like — to providing houses.”
The Fiji Government has put a contract for pre-fabricated houses out to tender with the aim of building them in the hardest hit rural areas.
Children the focus of urgent need
Aid agency UNICEF said along with the tens of thousands still homeless in evacuation centres, many were sleeping rough in the streets.
It is focusing on child welfare, supplying 60 temporary classrooms to the most affected schools and relief packs for displaced children.
Spokeswoman Alice Clements told Radio National Breakfast there were many traumatised children needing urgent help.
“They might be scared of the rain or the wind, perhaps becoming very clingy with their parents. And in some cases we’re meeting children who simply have stopped talking,” she said.
“They’ve seen things and experienced things that no child should experience.”
Hundreds of schools in Fiji remain closed after being destroyed or damaged, with the damage bill for schools alone estimated to be at about $27 million.
Ms Clements said authorities were trying their best to get children whose communities were most affected by Winston back into school.
“Fiji’s a country that really values education. They’re also prioritising the emotional well-being and recovery of communities and education as well, which is great to see,” she said.
Originally at ABC News