Fiji Government Call For More Help, Scale Of Damage Immense

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

45,000, that is 5% of population, remain in evacuation centers

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Feb. 25, 2016) – Fiji is likely to need more international assistance as it rebuilds after Cyclone Winston, says a government spokesperson.

Forty-two people were killed in the category five cyclone and close to 20,000 people are in evacuation centres, and it is feared that number might rise as contact is made with the outer islands.

[PIR editor’s note: On Feb. 25, 2016 RNZI updated their numbers reporting that ‘The Fiji government says there are more than 45,000 people, or about five percent of the population, in evacuation centres following Cyclone Winston.]

New Zealand, Australia and France have responded with a number of relief flights, and New Zealand has deployed two Navy ships to Fiji to assist.

The United States, China, India and the European Union have also offered financial assistance.

Ewan Perrin, the permanent secretary of the Department of Communications, said the scale of damage was immense, and more will be needed.

"I think we will definitely need more international assistance. For the initial piece of activity, we're getting everything that we need at this stage.

"As we do those more detailed assessments, and as we look into the medium to longer term, we'll be looking towards our friends in the international community for some more support as well," he said.

Mr Perrin said the government was trying to work out accommodation options for close to 20,000 people who were living in the evacuation centres.

Getting shelter for the homeless was a top priority and temporary accommodation would be available for as long as it was needed.

He said the process of rebuilding had begun, but the government was trying to work out medium-term options.

"A lot of those evacuation centres are actually schools at the moment. What we're looking at doing now that the cyclone and storm has passed, we can actually re-house these people in other centres like churches and community halls and so on, and that frees the schools up.

"But in some cases it's going to be quite a while before we can re-house these people properly."

The government hopes to establish communication with parts of the country left isolated by Winston within the next couple of days.

"It's a work in progress, but we have re-established communications with some of the key areas, particularly the island of Koro, which was very heavily hit," said Mr Perrin.

"We're establishing communications on the island of Taveuni, which was also one of the more severely damaged areas as well, but we probably won't have good communications there probably until some time early tomorrow."

Impact on the sugar trade

Fiji cane farmers were hoping new markets could be found for fair-trade sugar to help them earn more, after Winston devastated their 2016 crop.

Farmers in Lautoka, Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki were the worst affected with 80 percent of their crops wiped out, on top of the destruction of homes and infrastructure.

Lautoka Cane Producers Association president Parbindra Singh said his association was in talks with Fairtrade Sugar and the Network of Asia Pacific Producers, seeking ways to help local farmers recover.

"Basically they are giving encouragement to go out and assist people with the 2017 crops and they have also said that they are looking for the markets and probably the market would be found and we would be able to sell our sugar and that premium and go directly to our members," he said.

One of the largest buyers of Fiji's Fairtrade Sugar, UK based company Tayte & Lyle, last year stopped purchasing Fiji sugar on Fairtrade terms, citing market constraints.

About 13,000 producers and their dependents were said to have lost out on fairtrade premiums from that deal, which amounted to nearly $US13 million.

Financial assistance

The Asian Development Bank said Fiji's economy could face losses of tens of millions of dollars following the cyclone.

It would take some time to determine the full economic impact but the cyclone would set Fiji back significantly, according to ADB South Pacific regional eirector Rob Jauncey.

But he added there was likely to be significant damage to the tourism, sugar, agriculture sectors, the backbone of the Fiji's economy.

"I expect on the agriculture and sugar industries in general, we are going to see very extensive damage that is going to affect Fiji's overall economy, but there are many, many households across Fiji who make their livelihood from small scale agriculture - in some ways it is the safety net of the economy," he said.

The Asian Development Bank will provide $US2 million in emergency assistance to help Fiji recover from the damage caused by Cyclone Winston.

Mr Jauncey said the bank was committed to also providing any additional longer term reconstruction assistance that the government and the country may require, "which I expect will be extensive".

The assistance will be mobilised from the ADB Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund.

The ABD will work with the Fiji Government to identify priority relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction needs.

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