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Vanuatu cyclone relief: Australia provides personnel, supplies, hope

Tom Abke

Australia reacted quickly when a pair of tropical cyclones ripped through Vanuatu in early March 2023, leaving at least 10% of the country’s residents homeless and severely damaging schools and hospitals.

Hundreds of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel spent most of March on the Pacific archipelago, assessing damage, distributing supplies and rebuilding infrastructure. The Australian government contributed over $8 million in relief aid.

The village of Ipota, on Erromango island, was hit hard, with residents sleeping without roofs and drinking muddy water, Vanuatu’s Daily Post newspaper reported. When a relief team from Australia, France and New Zealand arrived in mid-March, “hope had been restored to the village,” said resident Philip Tanka, a disaster relief organizer.

The international team coordinated by Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office brought a generator, tools, tarpaulins, hygiene kits, collapsible water containers and chainsaws, along with a vaccine refrigerator and solar panels.

Similar relief efforts were made throughout the country of 319,000 people. An ADF C-17A Globemaster aircraft arrived with initial supplies and a 12-person assessment team. Days later, 600 ADF and other relief workers arrived aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Canberra with over 100 metric tons of humanitarian aid supplies. It also carried three Chinook helicopters, more than 40 vehicles, small boats, landing craft and logistical support. (Pictured: The HMAS Canberra arrives in Vanuatu with relief personnel and emergency supplies.)

Teams rapidly deployed to areas most in need, according to the Australian Defence Department.

“When we got there, our engineers were able to assist local communities with the cleanup and remediation of local schools and hospitals,” Lt. Ellen Rosengreen, of the Australian Army’s 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, said in a news release. “We repaired the hospital, which enabled the local community to provide vital health care.”

By early April 2023, the HMAS Canberra had returned to Australia with most of the relief personnel. About 60 Australian Army engineers and supporting troops remained in Vanuatu.

Pat Conroy, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, announced part of the nation’s $8.1 million relief aid while visiting Vanuatu that month. The funds will provide food, repair hospitals and schools, replace school textbooks and teaching aids, and help households struggling in the storms’ aftermath.

Conroy met with Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau to discuss cyclone relief and the countries’ security partnership, the Daily Post reported. He also visited a village school in Pango that was repaired by Australian law enforcement officers.

During the aid announcement, Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu Sarah de Zoeten noted Vanuatu’s assistance during unprecedented bush fires in southern and eastern Australia in 2019 and 2020.

“Similarly, when the people of Vanuatu face challenges, Australia wants to be there to help them, too,” she said.


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