Pacific Islands demand climate action after extreme Cyclone Pam destroys Vanuatu

March 17, 2015
A house in Vanuatu badly damaged by Cyclone Pam.

After Cyclone Pam caused widespread destruction on Vanuatu, a South Pacific archipelago, on March 14, Prime Minister Baldwin Lonsdale said the devastating cyclones increasingly hitting his nation were directly linked to climate change.

Authorities had confirmed 24 deaths and 3000 people displaced by Cyclone Pam, which destroyed vital infrastructure and flattened buildings across the archipelago, The Guardian said on March 16. Up to 90% of buildings in the capital Port Vila had been damaged or destroyed by the category five storm.

Ironically speaking at a United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction being held in Japan, Lonsdale said: “We see the level of sea rise … The cyclone seasons, the warm, the rain, all this is affected. This year we have more than in any year … Yes, climate change is contributing to this.

“I am very emotional … Everyone has that same feeling. We don’t know what happened to our families … We cannot reach our families; we do not know if our families are safe. As the leader of the nation, my heart hurts for the people of the whole nation.”

The Guardian reported that Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, also addressed the conference, insisting: “It is time to act … Let us match the rhetoric of these international gatherings with pledges and commitments as leaders to do our best to improve conditions and lives of those who need it most.”

In a statement issued by the conference, Lonsdale explained the consequences of worsening extreme weather events for his nation made up of 82 islands: “This is a major calamity for our country. Every year we lose 6 per cent of our GDP to disasters.

“This cyclone is a huge setback for the country’s development. It will have severe impacts for all sectors of economic activity including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. The country is already threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels in addition to five active volcanoes and earthquakes.

“This is why I am attending this Conference and why Vanuatu wants to see a strong new framework on disaster risk reduction which will support us in tackling the drivers of disaster risk such as climate change.”

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the ACTU, is running an appeal for donations to help rebuild Vanuatu.

Its appeal says: “Funds raised will assist the medium-term recovery effort to re-build homes and get access to clean water supplies at the household/community level. We will also be assisting households to re-establish crops and small scale food production.”

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