The FF government’s response to the national catastrophe caused by Cyclone Winston would be laughable if it was not so serious.
In a media briefing given 5 days after the monster cyclone struck Fiji, DISMAC reported only 8 houses completely destroyed in the Western Division and 6 partially destroyed.
This is absolutely outrageous.
We all know that Winston with average wind speeds of 280 kmph made landfall in north-eastern Vitilevu and all areas from Tailevu to rural Lautoka were ravaged by the hurricane force winds with hundreds of houses and buildings damaged.
Reports from independent sources in Ra, Tavua and Ba put the destruction or damage to homes at 70% – this means hundreds, if not thousands, of homes.
In some cases, entire villages and settlements have been flattened and thousands of people have been rendered homeless, most having lost their entire belongings.
Dismac’s claim of 14 destroyed/damaged houses in the western division shows that government is moving at a snail’s pace in assessing damage and providing relief to our needy people OR it is neglecting the West.
Death toll now stands at 42 – the majority of these are from the Western Division, according to earlier reports.
People’s immediate need in the cyclone ravaged areas are food, clean water and shelter. So far in none of its briefings has DISMAC talked about how much rations government has distributed so far and to which areas. Reports from the West reveal that none of the evacuation centres there has been provided government rations so far.
In this respect, we find Commissioner Western Manasa Tagicakibau’s comment (FT 24/2) highly insensitive and preposterous. He is quoted saying that: “People should have food rations for three days when they seek shelter in evacuation centres and after the third day, government assistance rolls in.”
Mr Tagicakibau most of these people fled their homes in the middle of the night, fearing for their lives when they faced the fully fury of Winston. Do you really expect them to start collecting food and clothing before they leave?
In the same article FT quotes Nayalayala District rep Maleli Bari saying: “Most of them lost everything…and most people escaped with just the clothes on their back.” This is the reality Commissioner Western. In any case, if you open an evacuation centre, government should ensure there is sufficient rations there to cater for the emergency.
Prime Minister’s pathetic offer
The Prime Minister’s own message to a cyclone-ravaged nation was pathetic. His address reads more like a mini-budget then government assistance to a country suffering from a major catastrophe.
According to reports in the Fiji Times, this is what a grossly insensitive Prime Minister is offering his needy people, many of whom have lost their livelihood, the roof over their heads and their entire belongings:
- housing assistance to members of FNPF (this has always been there)
- unsecured loans by commercial banks with interest repayment of below 5%. C’mon Prime Minister which commercial bank is prepared to offer unsecured loans and at less than 5% interest rate? Why don’t you name the bank prepared to do this and give full details of this so-called offer?
- VAT and duty exemption on all overseas donations
This is most unimpressive and highly insensitive.
- Government has to come up with immediate relief provisions for ALL affected areas. Thousands of people in Tailevu, Ra, Tavua, Ba and Lautoka have been severely affected by Winston – but there appears to be little focus on them.
- there has to be complete transparency in the handling of relief work with the public given detailed account of how much assistance and what kind of assistance is given at the various locations
- Government must rescind the 9% VAT imposed on basic food items in the 2016 Budget
- there has to be a more sensitive package of assistance to the thousands of families who have had their homes destroyed or sustained damage to their house/buildings (both commercial and residential)
- a cash grant of $1000 should be provided to families who have lost all their belongings and household items, and do not have the means to replace them. The $1000 grant distributed to thousands of people by the Prime Minister in the various districts should be extended to the victims of the cyclone
- considering the importance of agriculture to the economy, farmers need a cash grant as well as crop rehabilitation assistance if the sugar industry and other income earning crops are to be saved from the disaster posed by a prolonged drought and now Cyclone Winston
- government must ensure that its hospitals and clinics are adequately equipped with staff and basic medicines/resources to deal with the injured and ailing and to deal with any epidemic that may arise government must ensure that its hospitals and clinics are adequately equipped with staff and basic medicines/resources to deal with the injured and ailing and to deal with any epidemic that may arise. Doctors and nurses should visit evacuation centres to ensure that hygienic conditions are maintained and to treat those requiring medical attention
- adequate and wholesome food should be provided to the people seeking refuge in the evacuation centres, especially to young children and the elderly
- relief rations should continue to be provided at best for 3 months to those who move out of the evacuation centres to rebuild their homes and livelihoods
- responsible civil society organisations must be engaged to deliver assistance at the various evacuation centres
PM Bainimarama would do well to study the disaster response and relief programmes of previous governments and learn something from them.