3 Jun 2016

Vanuatu's Cyclone Pam recovery slower than expected

6:08 am on 3 June 2016

More than a year after Cyclone Pam brought devastation to Vanuatu, many small businesses and schools are struggling to find their feet.

The tiny village of Eratap, south of Port Vila, was flattened in Cyclone Pam - the homes have now been rebuilt, but the school is still just wood framing.

Eratap, south of Port Vila, was flattened in Cyclone Pam - its school is still just wood framing. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

The category five storm wreaked havoc on the islands, destroying whole villages and killing 11 people.

It was the worst cyclone in 12 years, with disaster officials saying 80 percent of the homes in the capital Port Vila were seriously damaged.

Most homes have now been rebuilt or at least repaired, and hotels and resorts are reopening, but smaller businesses and markets are still struggling.

The tourism industry was also affected when international airlines pulled out, citing concerns over the safety of the runway near Port Vila. Virgin Airlines resumed flights in May, but Air New Zealand has not.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the recovery effort in Vanuatu had been, in his words, "mixed".

"There are some areas like the recovery work around schools, for example, that I am told, I haven't seen it yet, appears to be taking its time.

"It's something I've seen in other places in the Pacific following events like this, and we always give quite strong encouragement to everyone involved to move quickly on these things."

Rosalie Vatu is the president of the association that runs the well-known women's market on the waterfront in downtown Port Vila.

Not only were the premises destroyed, forcing a move to a smaller space, but the slowdown in tourism was a huge problem for the 87 women who earned their livelihood at the market, she said.

Women's market in Port Vila, Vanuatu, in June 2016.

The women's market in Port Vila, Vanuatu, in June. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

"The other market business like this [is] just closing up and all the mothers gone back home. And there, people are suffering - and when people are suffering, there's crimes, there's violence, in homes and communities in this time."

Ms Vatu said, because the women could not sell enough to make a proper living, their children were going hungry and some were not going to school.

"It's just a disaster, we cannot pay up the rent and it's killing us, it affects the families at home, we cannot sustain our families.

"Some of the kids they just don't go to school, the meals they are cutting down, and there is no balanced diet in homes anymore."

Sofia Lardies from Red Cross Vanuatu, in Vanuatu

Sofia Lardies Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

Sofia Lardies from Red Cross Vanuatu said there were still children around the islands being taught in temporary classrooms.

"We have done some liaising with the Ministry of Education and I believe they have funding set aside for all the schools," she said.

"It's just such a big task to go through and make an inventory of everything that was damaged, especially when they probably don't know what was there in the first place in a lot of instances."

The tiny village of Eratap, south of Port Vila, was flattened in Cyclone Pam - the homes have been rebuilt, but the school is still just wood framing.

Siles Alban from Vanuatu's Primary and Secondary Schools

Siles Alban Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

While children were being taught in the village's church and in private homes, the chairman of Vanuatu's Primary and Secondary Schools, Siles Alban, said it was not ideal and the delay in getting the school built could be frustrating.

"The boys are ready to fire the works up, but [there are delays] because everything like materials come through the Red Cross, and they tell us 'oh we have to wait next week' and so we have to wait too."

Mr McCully said, with two or three donor organisations, and local ministries involved along with a change of government, the whole process had been a bit slower than it could have been.

But he said now there was some political stability in the country, the effort should ramp up more quickly.

Air New Zealand officials were expected to visit Vanuatu next week to discuss the country's runway, and whether the airline would resume its flights.

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