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Solomon Islands: Worst flooding in history

30 Apr 2014


Tropical Cyclone Ita triggered some of the worst flooding ever seen in this vulnerable Pacific Island. In this picture, houses damaged along the banks of the flooded Mataniko River in Honiara. Credit: OCHA/Ian Doyle
The passing of Tropical Cyclone Ita at the beginning of April triggered some of the worst flooding ever seen in this vulnerable Pacific Island.

Heavy rain brought by Tropical Cyclone Ita in early April caused some of the worst flash flooding in the history of the Solomon Islands. The rains caused river systems to overflow, sending torrents of brown water through the capital Honiara and villages across Guadalcanal Province.

Homes and infrastructure were washed away, including one of only two bridges linking the east and west of Honiara. Aid workers reported seeing people carried out to sea, many of whom were women and children.

At least 22 people were killed and over 50,000 affected – almost 10 per cent of the country’s total population.

Honiara and the rest of Guadalcanal were declared disaster areas on 4 April.

“The floods were not just the worst I have seen in my 14 years with the National Disaster Management Office, but in my whole life,” said Loti Yates, director of the NDMO.

“Our main priorities are the thousands of people displaced, as well as food, health, and water and sanitation.

Regional support through the Pacific Humanitarian Team

Within two days of the storm, OCHA received a request from the Solomon Islands Government for assistance from the Pacific Humanitarian Team, a partnership of humanitarian agencies who work together in Pacific Island emergencies. As soon as the international airport reopened, the UN Resident Coordinator for the Solomon Islands, Osnat Lubrani, travelled to Honiara with the head of OCHA in the Pacific, Sune Gudnitz.

“We met with development partners and Government officials to express our sympathy and support, and also to get an understanding of the most strategic way we can work together to help the thousands of people in need,” said Ms Lubrani.

OCHA deployed four personnel to assist the Government to coordinate response efforts and support information management. Around 20 staff from over 10 regional UN agencies and the International Federation of Red Cross also converged in Honiara.

“We are working with national authorities to ensure the coordination structure is effective in meeting the needs of affected people by providing technical and coordination expertise,” said Mr Gudnitz.

OCHA and humanitarian partners are helping the Government to prepare a three-month action plan to outline immediate response activities and funding requirements.

Thousands still displaced

James, from Koa Valley, is living in the Mbokonavera School in Honiara with his wife and two children, and over 70 members of his community. The family lost everything in the floods, except the clothes they wore when they fled their home. When asked if he wants to rebuild in the same place next to the Mataniko River, he is adamant it is not safe to return.

“There is no need to go back because too many people died,” he says. “It is too dangerous for us to live there.”

Evelyn, who lives in a nearby community with her husband and six children, also wants to move to a new place. “The water will come back,” she says. Like James, Evelyn lost all her belongings and is now reliant on distributions from Red Cross and local NGOs.

Despite their losses, James and Evelyn both agree that their communities must stay intact.

“We want to stay together,” says James. “We cook and help each other here [in the evacuation centre] and wait for information on where to go.”

A Humanitarian Action Plan has been developed to facilitate the coordination of humanitarian response efforts and has identified 68 activities across seven national clusters. Requirements over the next three months are estimated at US$13.9 million, of which $11.6 million remains unmet. Priority areas are Health, WASH, Shelter, Protection and Food Security.