Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu islanders face starvation 'within days' following destruction of all crops, warns Unicef

The death toll now stands at 24, with dozens injured, but is expected to rise and there are 'serious concerns about food security'

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The Independent Online

The entire population of one of Vanuatu’s biggest islands faces starvation within days, with all crops destroyed by Cyclone Pam, Unicef officials warned tonight.

Concern is growing for the fate of the islanders, who have just a few days of fruit and root vegetables left. Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Alice Clements, a spokesperson for Unicef Pacific, based in the capital, Port Vila, said: “We have discovered that 100 per cent of crops in Tanna have been destroyed – this means that this is an island with no food.”

Senior government officials struggled to maintain their composure at a briefing in Port Vila today.

Up to 80 per cent of the population of Tanna has been displaced and an official described the “devastation” he saw there, with trees stripped bare and looking like “skeletons”.


Ms Clements, one of those attending the briefing, was struck by the “very emotional” state of the senior officials. “We have about a week to get food to these people because after that, they have no food,” she said. There is also the problem of contaminated water supplies and no power or shelter in many areas.

The death toll now stands at 24, with dozens injured, but is expected to rise and there are “serious concerns about food security”, according to Ms Clements.

Baldwin Lonsdale, Vanuatu’s President, appealed for help as the full extent of the disaster emerged today. Mr Lonsdale had been attending a disaster conference in Japan, when the cyclone struck last weekend, with winds of up to 200 miles an hour.

Speaking before he left to return to Vanuatu, he spoke of the “monster” cyclone which had “completely destroyed” parts of his country.

In the capital, Port Vila, almost every building has been destroyed or damaged. “The humanitarian need is immediate,” he said.


A C-17 transport plane with emergency supplies took off from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, yesterday – part of a growing effort involving countries from around the world, as well as relief agencies and the World Health Organisation.

Vanuatu has a population of around 268,000 spread over 65 islands. It is like dealing with “65 simultaneous emergencies potentially”,  said Ms Clements. She added that problems travelling to many of the islands meant “it’s incredibly difficult to get the real answer on what the situation is here”.

The force of the cyclone “was much stronger” than Hurricane Katrina, which left a trail of destruction when it hit the US in 2005.