Another Aceh: Koro’s deadly debris
Partners in Fiji are urgently seeking funds to cover the cost of debris clearance in communities hardest hit by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston, which struck the country on 20 and 21 February. Thousands of tons of rubble, wood and corrugated iron now litter villages and agricultural land, posing a public health and safety risk and hindering rebuilding efforts.
United Nations experts are working with village leaders to clean up communities, making way for the building of shelter and a return to normal life. As part of the $38.6 million emergency humanitarian appeal for Fiji, launched on 4 March, partners are seeking a further $900,000 for debris clearance and cash-for-work schemes, as well as other early recovery projects.
Sera Raitaukala lives in Mudu village on the east coast of Koro, which bore the brunt of Tropical Cyclone Winston’s wild winds and killer waves. Almost one month after the cyclone, she’s still struggling to come to terms with the disaster.
“Sometimes we sit together and think back to the day, and we can feel tears from our eyes,” said an emotional Sera. “It’s hard for us to forget. It’s really a pain in our heart when we think about trying to save our kids, our granddaughters, our grandsons."
Sera cries as she describes how her two-week-old home was washed away in the storm surge, which has left a sea of rubble across her village. “All the houses were broken, and it’s hard for us to explain how we are going to build our whole village again,” she added. “We did some work to clean some areas so we can go through to our house, but we had to climb all over the trees, big rubbish like iron roofs, wood, so many nails. A lot of us were taken to Suva Hospital because of wounds. We don’t know where to step.”
Across the other side of the village, 33-year-old Jone Biukoto is busy cleaning up the carpet of corrugated iron that covers the ground. “This was the tsunami of Fiji. Today I am trying to clean the village. Pick up the rubbish,” he said, sweating in the hot tropical sun. Locals are doing what they can, but with an estimated 42,000 tons of debris strewn across Lomaiviti Province alone, it’s not a job these communities can do alone.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is funding a FJ$100,000 project to help communities sort and move rubbish left behind by Winston. This will build on the work started by the Australian Defence Force during its Koro deployment. “Debris is a huge public health and safety issue for these communities, and UNDP is working with villages to identify their needs and clear the rubbish safely,” said Humanitarian Coordinator Osnat Lubrani. “Under the partnership with the Fijian Government’s Ministry of Youth and Sports, young people will be paid cash to do the work under guidance from international experts.”
Faisal Ridwan works for UNDP as a Debris Clearance Expert. He’s originally from Aceh in Indonesia, and he sees similarities between the damage on Koro and the devastation caused by the Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia 12 years ago. “Being here brings my memory immediately back to the tsunami in 2004 in Aceh, and it’s also very similar to Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 with lots of debris piled everywhere,” said Mr. Ridwan. “The particular challenge here is that Koro Island is very remote, and it is hard to find resources like heavy equipment to clear debris. Clearing these communities is an important step in the recovery process.”