Friday 20 Mar 2015
Arguments at Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office are holding up vital aid for cyclone victims, several sources say.
No food aid packages have been distributed in Vanuatu, seven days after Cyclone Pam struck the island nation.
It's understood huge quantities of emergency food and other aid are sitting idle in the Vanuatu Mobile Force barracks in the capital Port Vila.
Local newspaper the Vanuatu Daily Post reports that National Disaster Management Office officials are arguing over the distribution of aid.
Government spokesman Kiery Manassah says the aid is being stalled because islanders are likely to have enough to eat this week, while the food will be needed next week.
He also says the government wants to make sure the needs of all the estimated 67,000 households affected by the savage storm are met equally.
"The government wants transparency, accountability and a fair distribution of relief supplies," Mr Manassah told the Vanuatu Daily Post.
Aid organisations and the UN are poised to distribute huge amounts food and other aid as soon as the NDMO directs them to do so.
Expatriates in Port Vila, who didn't want to be named, are critical of the nation's disaster response, accusing the NDMO of incompetence.
"All that aid is just sitting up there while people are going hungry," an Australian man, who had lived in Vanuatu for more than 15 years, told AAP.
He said concerned expats and local businesses had taken it upon themselves to buy bags of rice, flour and other supplies and distribute them to hungry locals.
A New Zealand woman, also a long-term resident, said the NDMO had handed out lengthy disaster surveys to hungry people who didn't even know how to fill them out.
"Some of the questions aren't even related to the cyclone. They're just ridiculous," she told AAP.
She said people desperately needed food.
"They can build shelter again. That's easy," she said.
"In Vanuatu we get earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, cyclones. We're used to disasters. We know how to get things going again.
"This time we have all this help, but seven days later we still don't have the one thing we need - food."
Vanuatu has hit out at the lack of coordination among aid groups swarming the cyclone-ravaged Pacific nation, which it says is costing precious time getting help to those in need, while warning food will run out in a week.
Relief agencies have been battling logistical challenges in the sprawling archipelago with a lack of landing strips and deep water ports hampering their efforts to reach distant islands and get a better grip on the full scale of the disaster.
Stefan Armbruster reports from Port Vila:
They continue to paint a bleak picture, detailing large-scale property and crop destruction, and an urgent need for clean water, medical supplies, tents, bedding and hygiene kits.
Aid finally reached the badly hit island of Tanna on Wednesday, five days after Severe Cyclone Pam roared ashore on Friday night, but many of the 80 islands that make up Vanuatu remain without help.
National disaster committee deputy chair Benjamin Shing said while the country appreciates the aid, the initial response could have been handled better with many groups and NGOs working on their own rather than in cooperation with the government.
"I do apologise but I have to state the facts. We have seen this time and time again," he said at a briefing in the capital Port Vila.
"In nearly every country in the world where they go in they have their own operational systems, they have their own networks and they refuse to conform to government directives.
"We had to spend the first three days trying to get some form of coordination in place.
That was much precious time that could have been spent doing the assessments instead." Oxfam country director in Port Vila Colin Collett van Rooyen denied any disorganisation.
"Our position is that we will continue to work with the government, as we have been, and as we always do, to address the best interests of those in need," he said.
In a situation update, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted: "Coordination with the ministry of health regarding flights to provinces is critical".