Tropical Cyclone Harold and COVID-19
In the middle of preparing COVID-19 lockdown measures, Tropical Cyclone Harold hit the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga over 1-11 April. Reaching up to Category 5, the cyclone forced people into evacuation centres where proper physical distancing became impossible.
Homes and food supplies were destroyed, resulting in what has been called a “double-disaster” for the people and communities affected. Below are some updates from our church partners.
TC Harold struck the Solomon Islands first as a Category 3 cyclone, damaging the food bowl region of Guadalcanal, damaging important crops and limiting the local food supply. As a member of the Solomon Islands Christian Association, the United Church in Solomon Islands has been part of an ecumenical response to address the short to medium-term shortage of food. This response has been funded through DFAT on the advice and request of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).
TC Harold intensified into a Category 5 as it made landfall in the northern Islands of Vanuatu. Espirito Santo, Pentecost, Malacula and surrounding Islands were hit worst. The Australian Government made funds available for a coordinated response between NGOs, local churches and the Vanuatu Government.
The ecumenical response is addressing the need for clean water and sanitation, non-food items and support to evacuation centres. Our partner the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu (PCV) has facilitated its own response by collecting food and non-food items from congregations in unaffected areas and directing these to communities that bore the brunt of the damage. They are working closely with the government on coordinating the distribution of the resources.
The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union has donated relief supplies towards the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office to support the COVID-19 response. The requested supplies included soap, toiletries, clothes, candles, matches, food items and containers for storage.
One of the key lessons learned from Cyclone Pam in 2015 —and now being witnessed all over the world during COVID-19—is that the risk of violence towards vulnerable people increases during such crises. This includes violence against women, girls and children; domestic violence, violence against people with disabilities and the LGBTIQ community. The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union of PCV are increasing their efforts to address this violence, especially within cyclone-affected areas during their distribution of collected goods. If you would like to support this aspect of the response and help our partners keep people safe, click here to donate now.
After Vanuatu, TC Harold lowered to Category 4 and moved towards Fiji, striking Vitu Levu and the country’s eastern islands. At the time, Fiji had recorded a small number of COVID-19 cases so maintaining physical distancing was vitally important but almost impossible as people were forced into evacuations centres. Food supplies were damaged and road blockages hindered the response.
Our partner the Methodist Church in Fiji is responding to the needs of those in the most affected areas and have contacted UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) for support. We have responded through both a DFAT-funded ecumenical response as well as directly with our partners. After Cyclone Winston, MCIF in partnership with UnitingWorld and the UCA, established a Disaster Chaplaincy Network to help people work through the stress and trauma of disaster experiences. We will work with MCIF to refresh the training of this network in the light of this double-disaster and support the deployment of chaplains to support people work through the stress. If you would like to support this aspect of the response, please donate to our disaster fund here.
The Methodist Church of Fiji has donated relief supplies to Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office to assist those affected from Tropical Cyclone Harold.
Before leaving the Pacific, TC Harold hit Tonga at Category 4. The tiny islands of ‘Eua and parts of Tongatapu were most affected. This comes after Cyclone Gita decimated these same islands just two years earlier.
The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (WFCT) was able to utilise a building repairs storage facility constructed and stocked out of the Cyclone Gita response in partnership with UnitingWorld/UCA (see below pic). The building meant that they could begin the repairs to damaged buildings within the first days and weeks after the cyclone, rather than having to wait for supplies to be shipped in from New Zealand.
FWCT has accessed a funding grant from the Australian Government to supply water tanks to vulnerable families affected by the cyclone and to support health and hygiene advice for COVID-19 prevention. They are also hoping this partnership will strengthen and they can expand the Disaster Chaplaincy Network to be ecumenical; reaching not just those communities affected by cyclones, but all the people struggling with the fear and uncertainty created by COVID-19. If you wish to support FWCT in their response, please donate to our disaster fund here.
Across the Pacific, especially in the places affected by TC Harold and other disasters, people are asking important questions about where God is during these crises and what or who is to blame for them.
UnitingWorld is standing with all our partners as they grapple with these questions by collating Pacific-led theological resources and commentary for churches to lead their communities through these difficult questions and in responding with faithful action.