Virus lockdown puts brakes on Vanuatu cyclone relief

Vanuatu’s rigid coronavirus lockdown is hindering critical relief efforts to rebuild the island country after it was pummelled by Tropical Cyclone Harold, aid agencies said Saturday.

Nearly two weeks after the deadly monster storm barrelled through the South Pacific, local media reported that newly homeless families were still sleeping in the open.

Australia, New Zealand and China have rushed in emergency aid but distribution has been hampered by strict quarantine requirements after Vanuatu — one of the few remaining countries without confirmed COVID-19 infections — closed its borders.

Aid agencies said around a third of the country’s 300,000 people were in need of emergency shelter.

But humanitarian workers were struggling to get supplies to those most in need, said Jacqueline De Gaillande, the Red Cross secretary general in Vanuatu.

She said damage in some areas was worse than that of Cyclone Pam five years ago, which wiped out almost two-thirds of the country’s economic capacity in Vanuatu’s worst recorded natural disaster.

“It will be very hard for the economy to come back. We need to have a recovery period which will last at least a year,” she told AFP.

Oxfam’s Pacific regional director Raijeli Nicole said the aid sent to help Vanuatu’s recovery were “not getting to the communities, or women or people with disabilities who need it most.”

Winds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph) slammed into Vanuatu, severely damaging hospitals and homes, leaving communities cut off by flooding and roads blocked by fallen trees.

Prime Minister Charlot Salwai has appealed to provincial government officials to step in immediately to coordinate the distribution of relief supplies. (AFP)