VANUATU CYCLONE VICTIMS PLEAD FOR RICE

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No response from government in weeks

By Len Garae PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Feb. 14, 2011) - A total of 35,660 victims in Cyclone Vania struck Tafea Province urgently need 23,069 bags of rice for the next three months and are pleading with the Central Government to start distributing the rice now that their gardens have all been destroyed.

Speaking on their behalf, the spokesman for the charitable Taule Taule Association, Lae Sakita said soon after Cyclone Vania had struck Port Vila and Efate on January 13 then trailed south to swarm Tafea, the assurance was that the Government would intervene with emergency relief assistance as soon as possible.

Now over three weeks later, the victims are still waiting and are applying pressure on their representatives to find out when the Government is going to rush in the bags of rice as promised.

Government Press Officer Richard Kaltongga confirmed that the Council of Ministers had discussed their plight and approved of emergency related action to be carried out to help the victims in Tafea Province soon after the cyclone.

While the Government Public Relations Officer (PRO) could not give a figure from the top of his head, according to Sakita the estimated cost of the relief assistance of logistical support and rice is 55,207,000 vatu [US$587,000].

The amount which includes all the breakdowns as far as individual households and transportation was approved by the Chairman of the National Disaster Committee (NDC) George Bogiri on February 7.

What is slowing down the process cannot be clarified as no one was available in the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) when we called. Neither the Chairman of NDC nor the Director General of Public Utilities, Jotham Napat or Tafea Province could be reached for comment.

[PIR editor’s note: RNZI reports that about US$700,000 has been allocated for the cyclone victims but bureaucracy is allegedly holding up the aid. "They were delayed because they hadn’t been signed off by the government’s executive."]

The situation is extra serious in the White Sands vicinity because Sakita says the people are already victims of the Yasur Volcanic ash fall and the damage to their gardens and trees is a double tragedy. "The people in White Sands depend on their natural environment and coconut trees to build their homes and collect food but Cyclone Vania also damaged the trees so they are in a real critical situation," he says.

Looking at White Sands from a national stand point, he says every year 22,000 tourists go to Tanna to visit Yasur Volcano. "This indicator alone means the Government should consider taking immediate steps to help the victims who are now in great need for food assistance", he said.

The NDMO did not answer our phone calls.

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