Port Vila, Mar 17: Vanuatu warned today it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the sprawling Pacific nation.
Relief agencies have warned that conditions are among the most challenging they have faced, with mounting concerns about disease, and the nation's President Baldwin Lonsdale has appealed for the world to help. With 24 people so far confirmed dead, the scale of the disaster became clearer with the first team of aid workers reaching Tanna island, 125 miles south of the capital Port Vila, itself badly damaged.
"The impression they got from their initial observations was that the damage is significantly worse than Port Vila," Tom Perry from CARE Australia told AFP. He added that the hospital was functioning, but it had no roof. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said reconnaissance by the Australian military "confirmed significant damage in the southern islands".
"And particularly Tanna island, where it appears that more than 80 percent of houses and buildings have been partially or completely destroyed," she said.
"Not only buildings flattened, but palm plantations, trees. It's quite a devastating sight." Communications to many of the other 80 islands in the sprawling archipelago were still down and Benjamin Shing, from Lonsdale's office, said survivors would quickly run out of food.
"The first week we are relying on the fact that the food crops and the gardens are still edible and they can be used for the first week, but after the first week we'll need to get some rations on the ground," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. With crops wiped out, Shing feared the worst for a country that largely relies on subsistence farming. "There will be extensive injuries if the people didn't go to higher ground and there might be a lot of fatalities," he said.