The $8 lettuce, and the cyclone which never arrived

Women cooking maize on a fire to sell at their roadside stall.
UNICEF NZ

Women cooking maize on a fire to sell at their roadside stall.

OPINION: Eight dollars for a head of lettuce. I'd seen the signs at at the supermarket explaining that the recent bad weather across New Zealand meant vegetables were in short supply, and prices had increased drastically.

Fair enough I thought. But as I read, struggled to muster my usual white-hot outrage regarding overpriced foodstuffs.

Nothing. It was a lettuce. A seasonally expensive piece of produce.

The long term impact on the lives of the people in this country, and other countries affected by climate change, isn't ...
UNICEF NZ

The long term impact on the lives of the people in this country, and other countries affected by climate change, isn't easy to fix.

Arguably a much bigger problem is that those heads of lettuce have been transported by truck or train or plane all over New Zealand. And they're wrapped in plastic. And at least once a week people like me drive to a supermarket to buy a whole lot more packaged and processed and transported foods, and then drive them home again.

This article was supplied as part of Stuff's partnership with Unicef NZ.
READ MORE:
Why Stuff is working with Unicef NZ
* Cost of salad rises thanks to bad weather
Tropical cyclone Donna forms in the South Pacific, threatens Vanuatu
Cyclone Pam: One year on for Vanuatu's
chidren

And I thought of what my weekly shop might mean for a tiny community near Port Vila, a three hour flight to the north of New Zealand, hurting horribly from a cyclone that never arrived.

What happens to the children in Vanuatu when the next cyclone comes?
UNICEF NZ

What happens to the children in Vanuatu when the next cyclone comes?

Let me explain.

In early May I was in Vanuatu for the best part of a week at the request of my Unicef Pacific colleagues. I was there in the event Cyclone Donna brought the same chaos that Cyclone Pam had two years earlier.

I did many interviews with media, and updated colleagues back home in case we needed to act, but largely, it was a particularly unpleasant game of wait-and-see.

Families sheltering inside the Wan Smol Bag Yut Senta in Port Vila ahead of Cyclone Donna.
UNICEF NZ

Families sheltering inside the Wan Smol Bag Yut Senta in Port Vila ahead of Cyclone Donna.

Vanuatu got relatively lucky. Instead of Donna barrelling over the entire country, smashing everything in her path, she tracked west before moving down, saving her most brutal winds for the open ocean.

Ad Feedback

People had learned the lesson of Pam, and sheltered where they could. In Port Vila, we visited one theatre where a couple of hundred people from one low-lying community were preparing to spend the night. On one island, almost 200 people sheltered inside a cave for the best part of three days - uncomfortable, but safe.

Thankfully, the vast bulk of the country escaped damage, but that's not to say there was no effect.

Several families live together in a former kindergarten building.
UNICEF NZ

Several families live together in a former kindergarten building.

In Port Vila, Donna didn't bring the winds, but she brought rain. Torrential rain. And that on top of the deluge from Cyclone Cook one month earlier.

The following day we visited one tiny community where several families live together in a former kindergarten building, halfway down a rutted dirt road, earning a meagre income selling produce at markets and roadside stalls. We bought three ears of delicious roasted corn for a few coins. There were a few small bags of ginger and yams for sale, and not much else.

The rains from Cyclone Cook had left their fields waterlogged; papaya rotting on the trees, cassava drowning in the ground. In fact, the ground wasn't just waterlogged - it was underwater, and Donna's recent rains had simply worsened an already bad situation.

Papaya trees damages by the winds and rains from successive cyclones means fruit is rotting on the trees.
UNICEF NZ

Papaya trees damages by the winds and rains from successive cyclones means fruit is rotting on the trees.

Their crops are suffering. Their livelihoods are at risk.

If you can't grow their fruit and vegetables to sell, I asked one of the mothers, how will you support their families? She didn't know. And she was worried.

Donna, and Cook before her, may have been responsible, but the fault is partly ours.

The ground was waterlogged before the latest storm.
UNICEF NZ

The ground was waterlogged before the latest storm.

The effects of climate change will ensure that countries like Vanuatu suffer through more extreme weather events. Out-of-season cyclones like Donna will become more common, and more destructive.

It's a problem exacerbated by developed countries like New Zealand through things like transport, industry, and agriculture, but it's the people struggling to make a living in countries like Vanuatu who will bear the brunt of climate change. That's not right.

Last week, a Unicef team travelled with supplies to help communities on some of those far-flung northern islands. Under the direction of Vanuatu's government, other humanitarian partners have already been providing shelter, food, and other supplies.

What was previously workable land is now underwater. Crops of papaya and cassava are now struggling to grow in the ...
UNICEF NZ

What was previously workable land is now underwater. Crops of papaya and cassava are now struggling to grow in the waterlogged ground.

Those are the easy fixes. The long term impact on the lives of the people in this country, and other countries affected by climate change, isn't so easy.

The children we met seemed blissfully happy, squealing with delight at the camera, offering generous slices of fresh papaya, but they were missing out. Living on the margins, they were already falling through the cracks of the education system - what will that mean for their future prospects? What happens when the next cyclone comes?

On the drive back my colleagues said they'd ensure those children received help with education, and any necessary medical care such as vaccinations. An engineer would visit to fix the blocked water purifier that they'd been relying on for clean drinking water.

Donna lashed Vanuatu's north for days - smashing houses and schools, destroying water and sanitation systems, and ...
UNICEF NZ

Donna lashed Vanuatu's north for days - smashing houses and schools, destroying water and sanitation systems, and ruining crops.

That is the true scale of any disaster - not just in the immediate aftermath of an event, and the initial response to provide much-needed aid, but in the weeks and months and years after it, ensuring vulnerable communities are able to get back to their feet and stay there.

We need to acknowledge that small things we do in our everyday lives, can have an immense impact on other people, in ways we may not even imagine.

And while bad weather means we may have to pay more for a bag of leaves, it can mean a lot more for people living in the cyclone-prone Pacific.

The children we saw were smiling for the camera, but things could be bleak if their families can't grow food.
Unicef NZ

The children we saw were smiling for the camera, but things could be bleak if their families can't grow food.

It sure means that I'll look at an eight dollar lettuce in a whole new light.

Lachlan Forsyth is communications director for Unicef.  This article was supplied as part of Stuff's partnership with Unicef NZ.

Children outside the kindergarten they live in with their famlies.
UNICEF NZ

Children outside the kindergarten they live in with their famlies.

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback