Crispin Anderlini and Emily Benefield, Caritas Aotearoa NZ
Whole villages have been destroyed, thousands of people are sheltering in evacuation centres and a state of emergency has been declared in Fiji following Cyclone Winston – a Category 5 storm reported as the strongest to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere.
Cyclone Winston reached wind speeds of 325km overnight on Saturday, 20 February. The damage is extreme and includes flooding; major loss of crops; wrecked buildings; loss of electricity, water and telecommunications connectivity; and in some cases, entire villages have been destroyed.
Speaking from the town of Ba – in the north-western part of Viti Levu Island – Iosefa Nainima, Director of the Justice and Development Commission, Archdiocese of Suva, said the devastation is far worse than we could ever have imagined.’
‘On the islands there is significant destruction. Many houses are blown down, and many people are at [evacuation] centres. Food, water, and temporary shelter from tarpaulins and tents are likely to be the greatest needs. Tools for farming and seeds will also be important for people to meet their medium- and long-term food requirements.’
Caritas has well-developed relationships with the Archdiocese in Suva, who through their Justice and Peace Commission networks, cover the entire country. We are in close contact with them about the situation on the ground while they make a full assessment of the most important and immediate needs. In Tonga there was also widespread destruction and more than 2,500 people evacuated from their homes.
Caritas Tonga has trained volunteers who previously responded to the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Ian in 2014, and moved crucial supplies to the areas that were likely to be most affected.
Tarpaulins for temporary shelter and emergency supplies are being distributed to families in need in Vava’u and Ha’apai.
From Julianne Hickey, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand Director
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand Director Julianne Hickey says Cyclone Winston is the biggest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere and the people in Fiji have never seen anything like it.
In our 2015 environmental report, Small Yet Strong – Voices from Oceania, on the environment we noted the increase of intensity and frequency of these types of weather events.
I spoke with Iosefa Nainima, the Director of the Justice and Development Commission, Archdiocese of Suva, who has been surveying Fiji’s main island and says the devastation is like nothing he has ever seen before.
At one of the Catholic missions he visited, schools have been totally destroyed, the sisters’ maternity hospital is badly damaged and the priests’ housing has gone. This level of damage has occurred throughout the islands, and many people have died as a result of flying roof iron and other debris. Caritas is part of the second biggest humanitarian network in the world and our approach is to work in partnership with communities in need of support.
We keep our costs very low by spending very little on advertising and administration. Thanks to people’s generosity during the Lenten Appeal, Caritas is able to respond quickly to major emergencies like Cyclone Winston in Fiji.
As Fiji is in our part of the world, it heightens our need to respond to our neighbours following this disaster. It’s important to understand our approach is not to rush in quickly with our own solutions. We will work with the people in Fiji in solidarity and enable them to develop the best, most resilient and responsive solutions for the long-term.
Our approach helps ensure rehabilitation and recovery, so communities can flourish again. We have recently heard back from our partners on Taveuni at the Marist Tutu Rural Training Centre – an area that was very badly affected by the cyclone. While communications were down for almost a week, they were gathering, planning, consoling, clearing debris and determining their recovery path. It is very hard work, but they are determined to succeed and we will continue supporting them throughout the entire process.
Last year we had the UN Climate- Change Conference in Paris, and in February this year we had New Zealand’s first major Pacific climate-change conference, in Wellington. Now this catastrophic storm has happened in Fiji – and we’ve seen it before, as recently as Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu last year. It’s essential the Paris accord is ratified and that each and every one of us does everything in our power to make sure the spirit and intent of the Paris agreement is implemented.
Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ on care for our common home, was strongly influential in the Paris agreement preamble. It included his references to ‘Mother Earth’, ‘the climate is for the common good, belonging to and meant for us all’, and general issues of pollution, waste, and a ‘throwaway culture’. While the preamble is not enforceable, it set the ‘wairua’ of the conference discussions.
Cyclone Winston is another direct reminder to us that we should care for the environment in everything we do, and be mindful of protecting our planet and reducing our carbon footprint.
During Lent and in this Year of Mercy, we have witnessed this latest cyclone as ‘the cry of the earth and the poor’ on our own Pacific doorstep. This is a time when we can have a change of heart, re-evaluate and recommit to the common good of our environment and taking care of the earth through small daily actions like recycling, using public transport, etc.
As Pope Francis says, never doubt that one small action can’t make a world of difference, because it will. ‘We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile.’
Pray for Fiji at this time: fast from carbon consumption and lifestyle; and we invite you to give alms to Fiji through the Caritas Lenten appeal. This will help us to respond quickly to these ongoing severe weather events.