21 Jan 2003

Fiji Government rejects criticism about slow response to cyclone victims

6:43 pm on 21 January 2003

The Fiji Government is defending itself from criticism that it has been too slow to provide relief to victims of Cyclone Ami which devastated its northern and eastern islands last Tuesday.

The criticism has come from the victims themselves, community leaders, the Opposition leader Mick Beddoes and the Red Cross, amid reports that thousands of people are starving.

The Red Cross director, Alison Cupit, says the Government was not prepared enough to handle a disaster on this scale and should have had its resources ready in strategic areas for a cyclone or other disasters.

But the deputy controller of national disasters, Savenaca Kaunisela, says the Government is working hard to get relief to the cyclone victims.

Mr Kaunisela says they have to receive credible data before they can proceed with their activities which must follow set criteria.

He says food and a barge carrying water have been sent to Labasa and ships with supplies for the Lau islands have left Suva.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Electricity Authority says it has already restored power supplies to 90 percent of Labasa town and 20 percent of rural Vanua Levu.

Its acting chief executive, Rokoseru Nabalarua, says full restoration of supplies will take up to two months.

The Sugar Cane Growers Council says damage to the cane crop in Vanua Levu is estimated at 20 percent valued at five million US dollars while the homes of many farmers have also been destroyed.

In another development, the new school term for tens of thousands of students in the northern and eastern divisions, which was due to start next week, has been postponed indefinitely.

But fears have been expressed that many students may not be able to return to school at all because their families have no money and their first priority is food and shelter.