After a massive cyclone hit Vanuatu, the situation has become a race against time to save thousands of lives. Israel, as always, is among the first to respond. 

IsraAid, Israel’s leading humanitarian non-profit NGO, dispatched a team to the remote island of Tongoa – part of the Shepherd Islands in the province of Vanuatu – on Sunday morning in the wake of a natural disaster.

On Friday, March 13, Tropical Cyclone Pam hit the islands with category 5 conditions, corresponding to the highest category on the Beaufort scale, bringing widespread danger and destruction. Two days later, President Baldwin Lonsdale called for international support, saying: “I appeal on behalf of the government and people of Vanuatu to the global community to give a lending hand in responding to these very current calamities that have struck us.”

In Tongoa, the situation is beyond desperate, the island’s parliamentary representative told Yotam Polizer, IsraAID’s head of mission. “We have no supplies, no food, no clean water. Last night three children died. Please help us,” he said.

Wasting No Time

The most urgent needs outside of the capital remain drinking water and food. With lack of access to remote islands hampering relief efforts, the situation is becoming a race against the clock to save the lives of thousands dying of starvation and thirst.

The team wasted no time, quickly preparing kits and moving them to the harbor for loading. “There are so many islands here, it’s a logistical nightmare,” explained a volunteer as he moved boxes of water and rice onto the boat. “The best thing we can do right now is respond to each appeal as it comes and try and reach as many people as possible. Time is against us but we will do whatever we can to help.”

IsraAID, and Israel in general, are consistently among the first to respond in these situations. This time, too, IsraAid heeded the call immediately. In addition to traveling to Eratap to meet with the chief and assess the damage, the team also spent time in the capital city of Port Vila to coordinate efforts with government officials and UN agencies.

‘Our Children were Terrified’

“The cyclone howled so strongly, our children were terrified,” a father of two told the team in Eratap. He and his wife and children were staying in a makeshift shelter.

The family was hoping to last out the storm in their home, but Cyclone Pam, with its 320 kph winds, was just too much. With the roof caving in, the family somehow managed to escape to the local church before the cyclone flattened their home.

By United with Israel Staff
(With files from MFA)

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