Reeni Amin Chua
Torrential rain since 29 March have caused severe flooding for the second time this year in the western division of Fiji’s largest island of Viti Levu. Four people have died and over 8,000 people have been forced to seek safety in 91 evacuation centres following the floods. A state of natural disaster has been declared in some parts of the western division.
Just as the rain subsided and waters began to recede in some areas, the flood-stricken island is facing another tropical storm which was upgraded to a Category One cyclone. In the coming days Cyclone Daphne is expected to bring heavy rain and strong winds, with the possibility of severe flooding of major rivers, streams and low-lying coastal areas.
Staff and volunteers of the Fiji Red Cross Society have been working closely with the Fijian health authorities in responding to the immediate needs of the evacuees. The Red Cross is providing support and care at the evacuation centres, and disseminating precautionary advice on maintaining good health and hygiene to safeguard against disease outbreaks.
“At this stage, it is difficult to get the full extent of the affected population’s needs, as access to communities in the affected areas has been seriously hampered due to damaged or inundated roads and bridges,” says Ysabeau Rycx, the regional disaster management coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Pacific.
The Fiji Red Cross Society is on high alert and ready to provide assistance once the immediate threat of the cyclone has passed and the water levels recede.
“The Red Cross has volunteers in the affected communities but they too have been stranded and cut off from the division branches, and cannot reach the evacuation centres,” Ysabeau says.
Water and electricity supply on most parts of the island has already been severely disrupted, affecting approximately 150,000 people. The government is rationing power to allow most industries to operate during the day and domestic users in the evening.
Access to clean water is of immediate concern as several pumping stations are out of operation and taps have been contaminated by floodwater. Some of the pumps were damaged during the first floods that hit the island in January, and the recent series of flash floods have exacerbated the situation.
The Red Cross has prepositioned emergency relief supplies ready for distribution including water purification tablets, water containers, shelter tools, cooking sets and blankets.
With forecasts predicting more rain, the situation is expected to worsen with further flash floods and possible landslides. There is also the continuing risk of water-borne diseases.