Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu slams aid agencies

LONG RECOVERY: Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu, destroying communities.
Lawrence Smith/ Fairfax NZ

LONG RECOVERY: Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu, destroying communities.

The Vanuatu government has slammed aid agencies swarming into the country in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, claiming they are slowing down the process of getting help to people in need.

At a press conference on Wednesday night, national disaster committee deputy chair Benjamin Shing said he had to "state the facts" when asked about whether the country needed more help.

"If we had more teams and more support we would be able to cover more of the country. At this time we only have five teams going out and doing assessments."

Lawrence Smith Lawrence Smith Lawrence Smith Lawrence Smith Lawrence Smith/ Fairfax NZ Lawrence Smith/ Fairfax NZ

A boy sits among a destroyed forest on the north of the island of Efate.

Children walk down a devastated main road on north side of the main island of Efate.

The small community of Teouma, on the south of the main island of Efate, has been completely obliterated by the cyclone. The 100 community members survived by sheltering in a half-built church.

The people of Teouma have a long and difficult road to recovery ahead of them.

A damaged tree lies across the roads in Vanuatu.

Coastal buildings were ripped to shreds by Cyclone Pam.

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Compared to that, there were more than 100 NGOs and faith-based aid organisations in the country at present.

But many were working on their own, rather than in co-operation with the Vanuatu government which only made matters worse, he said.

Many had carried out their own damage assessments on areas, rather than follow the official process.

"It would have been better for them to come in and use the same methodology and work with our teams...that would have been much more efficient and much more effective.

"I have to apologise but I have to state the facts, we see this again and again and again (around the world)."

Shing said the government had lost valuable time dealing with the agencies and the initial damage assessment would have been completed earlier if this was not the case.

"The problem is everyone wants visibility...everyone wants their sign put on it."

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If they were really humanitarian organisations then putting signs up would not be necessary, Shing said.

Unicef director of communications Patrick Rose said he thought the government was "quite reasonable" in its critique.

"It's not a critique of Unicef by any means because Unicef is one of the primary partners," he said.

"Unicef's motivation is entirely driven in helping the most people possible. It has nothing to do with any publicity for us, it has everything to do with doing the right thing and helping people in need."

The problem was with some NGOs who refused to work within the proper channels.

"You can take a desperate situation and turn it into a dangerous situation if you start delivering aid to half the people, you start to create haves and have-nots."

World Vision New Zealand general manager of international programmes Alex Snary said from Port Vila the period following a disaster was always "a bit chaotic", particularly for less experienced actors.

"Agencies like World Vision, we've been working here 30 years... they know us, we know them. 

"New agencies coming in, it's a different story. They're landing on the ground, they don't know the people, they don't know Vanuatu and how it works."

World Vision was awaiting the Vanuatu government's release of a co-ordination plan, expected tomorrow.

"It is critical that the government plays a strong role in the co-ordination. We're glad they're stepping up to that responsibility."

The Red Cross said in a statement that local people, Red Cross staff and volunteers were "very grateful" for the international aid that had arrived.

"Red Cross is working closely with local authorities to support the government-led response," it said.

The organisation had 40 active volunteers visiting evacuation centres in Port Vila, and 70 emergency response-trained Vanuatu Red Cross volunteers across the outer islands.

On Wednesday it launched an emergency appeal for $5.3 million to support the 60,000 affected by the cyclone.

Kiwi donations to the New Zealand Red Cross appeal so far totalled around $280,000.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Government is sending the multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury to Vanuatu to support the recovery effort.

"HMNZS Canterbury will depart for Vanuatu as soon as possible carrying personnel, heavy engineering equipment and other supplies to support the recovery effort," Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said on Thursday.

"Once it arrives New Zealand engineering and environmental health teams will assist local people with tasks to be identified in discussion with the Vanuatu Government, such as, clearing roads, repairing key infrastructure, demolition work, and disease control."

An air force plane left Ohakea for Vanuatu on Thursday, while a C-130 Hercules was on its way back to Auckland after delivering shelter supplies, water containers, generators and stoves to Port Vila.

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