El Nino Fears for Vanuatu

 Photo source: Nixon Joe, VRCS. Liro, Paama

Photo source: Nixon Joe, VRCS. Liro, Paama

Communities across Vanuatu are being encouraged to conserve water and plant drought-resistant crops, in preparation for the dryer-than-normal weather conditions climate forecasters predict will accompany what may become the strongest El Nino event to affect Vanuatu in over two decades.

It’s been over 6 months since Cyclone Pam’s devastating force struck Vanuatu, causing widespread damage across all six provinces. Since that time the resilience of our people along with ongoing support both nationally and internationally has helped communities most affected get back on their feet and resume life as normal, or at least inch a little closer to it. Crops have been replanted and the country’s famous jungle-like vegetation is finally showing signs of life. Yet, Vanuatu Red Cross Society is urging communities to prepare for more challenging conditions. 

The latest predictions from climate forecasters suggest that communities across Vanuatu should be prepared for an unusually dry wet season linked to current El Nino conditions and warn that disaster may once again be imminent. Recent reports show that parts of Malampa, Shefa and Tafea are already facing food and water shortages due to lower-than-normal rainfall over the past few months coupled with lasting damage from Cyclone Pam. In response to this, NDMO have begun distributing food again. The situation will only be exacerbated by the start of cyclone season in November and the Ni-Vanuatu reliance on home gardens for food security, many of which are still recovering from damage sustained from TC Pam. Already, water shortages and subsequent crop failures and food shortages have been reported throughout the outer islands of Vanuatu. Red Cross Pacific Climate Adviser Olivia Warrick suggests that communities across Efate should not be fooled by recent rainfall – the total rainfall amount received over the past three months has been lower than normal for this time of year. El Nino is typically unpredictable and communities should prepare a sizeable stock of food and water in case conditions deteriorate.

 Source: Kara Jenkinson, ARC

Source: Kara Jenkinson, ARC

At Vanuatu Red Cross Society, Cyclone Pam recovery activities were planned with the forecasted El Nino related conditions in mind. A drought contingency plan was developed as a result and the health and WASH teams are in the midst of improving access to water across the country. Since March they have constructed or rehabilitated 109 rainwater harvesting systems and reached 1009 with hygiene promotion training. In addition, their health team is re-printing more hygiene promotion, health and safe water usage awareness materials, and training awareness teams.

Vanuatu Red Cross Society’s disaster management team has also responded by training more volunteer emergency response and logistics team leaders who will lead volunteer teams in the field so that they may assist the most vulnerable and remote communities if or when the need arises. Vanuatu Red Cross will support NDMO and PDOs with national and provincial contingency planning processes and more water collection containers and tarpaulins will be prepositioned across all 6 provinces to provide more options for emergency rainwater catchment.  When required, these stocks of water collection containers and other essential household items will be on-hand for swift distribution by trained volunteers in accordance with Red Cross’s Fundamental Principles and VRCS beneficiary selection and assessment guidelines. Finally, a workshop has been planned in partnership with VMGD to be conducted on Tanna Island with the aim of educating communities on climate and weather, specifically El Nino and presenting them with advice on drought preparedness and response.

Vanuatu Red Cross Society is calling on the community for donations so that they may purchase two portable desalination units to provide water to those suffering from El Nino on Paama, Shepherd Islands and Tanna. Vanuatu Red Cross Society’s annual gala night is to be held on October 31st and proceeds from the evening will also go towards the El Nino response. For donations and gala night ticket enquiries please email redcross@vanuatu.com.vu or call +678 27418.