Fiji’s Outer Islands Facing Critical Food, Fuel Shortages

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Fiji’s Outer Islands Facing Critical Food, Fuel Shortages Supply boats have not reached Lau, Rotuma in over a month

By Tevita Vuibau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, April 30, 2013) – People living in Fiji’s outer islands continue to face a shortage of basic food items and fuel as disruptions plague inter-island shipping services.

When contacted by The Fiji Times yesterday, villagers on Rotuma and on islands in the Lau Group attributed these shortages to the lack of shipping services.

Cicia villager Epeli Draunidalo said villagers were forced to go without rice, flour and sugar after supplies on the island ran out.

"It has been like this for a few weeks, the boat is supposed to come to the island once a month but there have been no services for over a month now," Mr. Draunidalo said.

Tovu villager Tevita Ravunivadra echoed Mr. Draunidalo's sentiments, saying the shortage of basic food items was compounded by the shortage of fuel.

"Because there is a shortage of fuel, people are finding it difficult to take their boats out to fish, there is no diesel in the store and only those who have spare stores are able to go out," Mr. Ravunivadra said.

He said people managed to survive by living off the land, harvesting crops to put food on their tables.

Ministry of Transport permanent secretary Commander Francis Kean said they were making efforts to address the needs of the islanders.

Mr. Ravunivadra said the last boat came to the island on March 15.

"So it's been more than a month without supplies and the village store is empty."

Meanwhile, the fuel shortage in Rotuma is causing problems for the island's water supply. The island last received a shipment of fuel and food items in March.

Lopta villager Rejieli Panapasa said pumps on the island were run by generators and water pumps had to be turned off because of fuel shortage.

"They had to shut off the pumps. Right now, people are relying on the water from their water tanks to get by," Ms. Panapasa said.

"We are also running short of basic food items such as rice and while we do not rely completely on these items, we still need them to supplement the food on the island."

However, hope is just beyond the horizon for the islands, with government and inter-island shipping agencies already resuming operations. MV Lady Sandy operator Durga Prasad said his vessel was back in business.

"We will leave on Wednesday to service the yasayasa Moala and lower Southern Lau and we will service upper Southern Lau next week," Mr. Prasad said.

Cdr. Kean said two extra vessels were provided by the Government Shipping Service to enable private shipping companies to meet demand under the Fiji Shipping Franchise Scheme.

In response to questions sent last week, Cdr. Kean said the Iloiloivatu and the Rogovoka were being used to meet demand in outer islands.

He said the Iloiloivatu had already serviced northern Lau and upper Southern Lau and would service the yasayasa Moala and lower Southern Lau next month.

He also stated the Rogovoka was undergoing repairs but would service Kadavu and Rotuma once it was cleared to sail.

Cdr. Kean said shipping was disrupted because of a number of factors but the government had acted decisively in response.

"A lot of these issues are beyond our control. Some of the vessels have had mechanical problems and the Lau Trader suffered a fire on board," Cdr. Kean said.

"There have also been issues with delayed payments to the operators but 70 percent of the outstanding invoices have now been cleared. The rest will be paid when the owners provide us with the necessary documentation."

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