FAMILIES GO HUNGRY IN WAKE OF FIJI MINE CLOSURE

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 21) – Families of former Emperor Gold Mine employees in Vatukoula, Fiji have been forced to sacrifice a few meals because they cannot afford three in a day.

Children of affected families are dropping out of school for the same reason or their parents cannot pay bus fares.

Six months after the mine closed and after little assistance from the interim Government, families of the 1,700 miners who lost their jobs are pleading for assistance from any organisation willing to come to their rescue.

The Vatukoula-Nadarivatu Headteachers Association has even pleaded for organisations to supply them with basic food items such as Noodles so they can feed hungry students who turn up for classes without any lunch.

Members of the Vatukoula Community Consultative Committee have even written to the National Disaster Management Office asking that Vatukoula be declared a disaster area.

The committee believes that if the area is declared a disaster zone, only then would they receive the assistance required by affected residents.

Committee secretary and residents' representative, Romeo Kivi, said the impact of the mine's closure on them was worse than any natural disaster that affected the country. Mr Kivi said people could not afford to provide for basic needs and the situation had gone "out of control".

He said since the mine closed on December 5, the only help received by residents was permission to withdraw FJ$500 [US$313] from their savings with the Fiji National Provident Fund and a small business training workshop funded by the interim Government in January.

He said since then, residents had not received further financial help with only a handful of the affected families receiving funding to run a small business.

"We have not received the assistance we need and that is why we have requested that Vatukoula be declared a disaster area," he said.

"The interim Government set aside $5million for families affected by floods in Vanua Levu this year while nothing was given to us who have been affected since last year."

Attempts to contact DISMAC director Joeli Rokovada for a comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

With examinations coming up, teachers in the area feel for the students.

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