Clean water and sanitation reaches remote villages struck by Cyclone Winston

Published: 12 April 2016 5:53 CET

By Corinne Ambler, IFRC

When Fiji Red Cross health coordinator Marica Kepa first flew over the village of Nukulau after Tropical Cyclone Winston, it looked like a huge rubbish dump.

“There was just tin roofing sheets everywhere, and we could see from the helicopter that hardly a house had been left standing. Maybe three or four homes out of 30 were left at most”, she said.

The remote village in the interior of the main island of Viti Levu was pummelled by the cyclone. Trees were stripped of their leaves and snapped in half like twigs, and several houses were lifted into the air and dumped metres away from their foundations.

“It was so hard to contain my emotions but we had to because we needed to face the people,” said Ms Kepa, “Normally we come in and we conduct interviews straight away but this time it took us so long because we were struggling with the impact the cyclone had on the community.”

Today it is a different story. The community has patched shelters together with roofing sheets and wood and there are smiles on the faces greeting the Fiji Red Cross team, which is here to assess what help they need to improve water supply and sanitation in the community.

Mereani Sauvena, 39, is thankful none of her family was hurt. She, her husband Waisea Mocevata, and son Epeli, 14, lost their house and are living in a makeshift shed cobbled together from salvaged materials.

“We went under the house but about 8pm the wind was so strong we ran to my father-in-law’s house nearby. When we came back in the morning our house was gone. Our house, our toilet, our kitchen – everything,” Mereani said.

The family has already received a package of relief items, solar lantern and tarpaulin from Fiji Red Cross but today Ana Zarkovic, the water, sanitation and hygiene promotion delegate from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and some Fiji Red Cross volunteers are assessing their water and sanitation needs.

“We’re talking to this family and others in the village to see how we can work together to repair broken toilets and provide a good water supply. Together with raising awareness of good hygiene practises this will reduce the risk of water-borne diseases such as typhoid and diarrhea,” Ms Zarkovic said.

“Part of my role is also to train Fiji Red Cross volunteers in how to capture data about water and sanitation, and how to keep water safe from source to mouth.”

Mereani’s family is now replanting its vegetable plot with taro, cassava, and bananas. It will take three months for the crop to be ready. They hope to be able to rebuild the family home within a year.

Over the next 12 months, the IFRC plans to bring improved water supply and sanitation to 754 families (3,770 people) like Mereani’s,  concentrating on eight villages which have been assessed as most in need of assistance.