Cyclone Pam: food stock damage ‘devastating’

Food stocks are rapidly dwindling after Super Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu last Friday night. Not only damaging most homes and schools, the cyclone has also destroyed crops and plantations – food sources thousands of islanders rely on. Many children are scavenging for fruits that fell on the ground, but soon even those stocks will run out.

According to Megan Gayford, UNICEF’s Emergency Nutrition Specialist now in Vanuatu, the situation could turn critical. “The cyclone has passed but Vanuatu potentially has a big nutrition problem coming its way. The scale of the damage to the food stocks is devastating and children’s health is a major concern.”

“A priority for UNICEF right now is to ensure children and new mothers stay in the best condition possible,” said Megan. “With around 60,000 affected by the cyclone, it’s a big challenge.”

Children, pregnant women and new mothers are particularly at risk of malnutrition, especially in these challenging conditions. “UNICEF will be scaling up the infant and young child feeding services to help mothers continue breastfeeding, which is the greatest protection for the youngest children against malnutrition,” said Megan.

UNICEF is already working to help undernourished and wasted children by ordering a shipment of ‘therapeutic food’ sachets – a dietary supplement to improve children’s health. In addition, UNICEF is delivering Vitamin A tablets with a measles campaign currently underway, and deworming tablets for parasite infections.

Starting from scratch


A mother walks through the remains of her village, Taunono. The village of 200 people
was completely wiped out after Super Cyclone Pam struck..


Reports about the damage on the outer islands are also starting to come in. “The reports aren’t good,” said Megan, who’s on the ground in Port Vila. “Some villages have sustained enormous damage, especially concerning food and crops. It looks like many communities will be starting from scratch.”

“It’s an extremely difficult situation,” continued Megan. “Vanuatu is very isolated and made up of 14 different islands. The population is dispersed over a very wide area and it’s difficult to reach the most vulnerable communities, something we’re committed to doing.”

Megan, who spent the day in Port Vila’s main hospital to see what support was required, saw the challenges ahead but was also heartened by the work of health staff. “The hospital is very busy with injuries, diarrhoea and infections,” she said. “The hospital is now ready to accept kids who are severely wasted – this is a big relief. Despite being crowded the hospital staff look like they are doing a really great job under difficult conditions.”

UNICEF is also setting up child friendly spaces to get children back to learning and playing, as well as to provide communities with health and hygiene kits.

“The food situation really underlies the vulnerabilities for nutrition – we need urgent support to ensure that the nutrition needs of children and new mothers are met,” said Megan.

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The author
Simon Nazer is communication consultant at UNICEF East Asia-Pacific

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