20 March 2015 – A week after the Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam hit the Pacific Islands, access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) appear as the immediate needs of around 60,000 children affected. Initial reports indicate that in two of the six most affected provinces in Vanuatu, Shefa and Tafea, around 60% of the population have no access to safe drinking water. Solid information is now being collected and analysed from the affected areas.
Unicef in close collaboration with the Vanuatu Government and WASH Cluster partners have been working amidst logistical, communication and supply challenges to deliver safe drinking water by providing water containers, purification tablets, and soap to communities and evacuation centres in Shefa and Tafea provinces.
“Thousands of affected families have no access to water due to lack of power to operate piped water supplies, contaminated groundwater and destroyed rainwater harvesting structures,” Unicef Pacific Representative Karen Allen said. “It is critical for us to be able to deliver safe drinking water to vulnerable children and their families. Water is a lifeline for children at this difficult time and we are doing all that we can to respond to this urgent need.”
According to Unicef, along with food and shelter, safe water, sanitation and hygiene are the highest priority interventions in emergency situations. Unless adequate water and sanitation services are quickly provided to children and their families, disease and death will follow. Unless good hygiene is consistently practiced by affected people, the danger of diarrhoea, cholera and other disease outbreaks will persist.
Unicef, as global WASH Cluster Lead, is supporting the Department of Geology, Mines, and Water Resources with field assessments, prioritization of humanitarian needs, distribution of supplies, reconnection of services in evacuation centres and communities, and the overall coordination of the response. As an immediate response, Unicef handed WASH supplies for 2,000 families over to the provincial government of Tanna. These are being distributed to benefit more than 5,000 children. Supplies include water containers, purification tablets and bars of soap which are all essential commodities to avoid the outbreak of water-borne diseases.
Additional WASH supplies are ready for dispatch from Fiji. Orders worth approximately US$700,000 have been placed to serve a total of around 70,000 people and will be flown in from Unicef’s supply warehouse in Copenhagen. Unicef will also support WASH partners with generators, fuel and water trucking.
In the medium term, the restoration of WASH services in temporary learning spaces will become a priority as many schools have been destroyed, including toilets and water access points.
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