16 Jan 2009

Clean drinking water desperately needed in Fiji says interim government

11:58 am on 16 January 2009

The interim government in Fiji says its flood-ravaged country is in desperate need of clean drinking water.

Fiji has formally asked for international assistance, following days of heavy deluge that has left thousands of homeless.

The New Zealand government says Fiji has sent the government a list of requested items, which is being given urgent consideration.

Fiji's Permanent Foreign Affairs Secretary, Ratu Isoa Gavidi, says at the top of the list is clean water, water tanks and water purification tablets.

He says Japan has already sent boxes of bottled water, but some areas have no water supplies at all, and may be without it for two or three weeks.

Ratu Isoa says as many as 20 countries have been formally asked for aid.

He says the diplomatic community has been briefed on the extent of the flood damage and told what Fiji's immediate requirements are.

Meanwhile, UNICEF says it has supplied 20,000 US dollars worth of medical, water and sanitation supplies to Fiji.

The supplies include 1,000 collapsible water containers, 4,800 water purification tablets, 2,000 one-litre packets of oral rehydration salts, and a range of medicines.

Rotary International has handed out 150 emergency supply boxes to people in Fiji and will fly a further 300 out of Auckland today.

Its Pacific areas spokesman, Rob Crabtree, says the boxes cost over 300 US dollars each to compile.

"The term emergency box covers some household utensils, cooking bowl, bucket, but more importantly in this situation, toiletries, medical, bandages, anti-septic creams and water treatment tablets, and then we got more, particularly clothing for men a couple of pairs of shorts and a couple of tee-shirts, two sets of underway, same for women, and then we have the miscellaneous thinks like a box of waterproof matches, so they can actually get a fire going to cook something."

Mr Crabtree says the only thing the boxes don't contain are food and water and that's what its next fundraising efforts will concentrate on.

He says once the boxes are empty they can be used from rainwater.

Meanwhile, the rain has stopped in Fiji's flood ravaged Nadi as people try to assess the damage left behind from the floods.

But a flash flood warning remains in force for Fiji's Northern Division and people living in Labasa and surrounding areas have been told to precautions.

Losses incurred by businesses in flood-hit Nadi are estimated at around 110 million US dollar.

This figure covers some 120 businesses ranging from merchandise manufacturers and distributors, retail outlets and supermarket businesses that have all reported substantial losses as a result of floodwaters caused by torrential rain since last weekend.

Nadi Chamber of Commerce president, Ram Raju, told Fijilive that at this stage, damage incurred to all businesses was estimated at about 20 to 55 million US dollars.

He says after full total stocktaking, there will be another 55 million dollars because everyone here sustained substantial losses to everything.

He says all businesses in Nadi are seeing 100 per cent losses to their businesses adding it's a total write-off.

And with the Western and Northern divisions severely affected by the tropical depression, the business community and the Commerce Ministry have called on commercial banks and financial institutions to be realistic in restructuring loan repayments.

The Fiji Times reports for customers affected by the floods, the ANZ Bank is offering to establish interest-only repayments on loans for up to three months.

And Westpac announced customers could suspend repayments on their home and personal loans for up to three months.

Suva Chamber of Commerce members and the Commerce Ministry yesterday met on how the private sector could help rebuild businesses affected by the flood.

The chamber president Dr Nur Bano Ali says the package offered by commercial banks is not realistic, especially at a time when the country has declared a state of emergency.

She says banks should offer a year of suspension of loan repayments, because businesses affected will not be able to get off the ground in three months.

The interim Commerce Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said with the huge profits made by commercial banks in the country, these banks should come up with more realistic packages.