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Cyclone Winston: one year on

Today marks one year since Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji, causing massive devastation to local communities. The strongest tropical cyclone to hit the country and the South Pacific Basin in recorded history, it flattened entire villages in its wake.

A year on and families affected by this disaster are slowly returning to normal life. Although the great outpouring of support from the international community greatly assisted with immediate response efforts in the Pacific nation, the road to recovery post-disaster is arduous and fraught with its share of challenges.

In Fiji, ChildFund Australia partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help children and families recover from the worst impacts of the disaster. During the emergency phase, over 7,000 vulnerable families were provided with emergency shelter kits to repair damaged homes.

Now, efforts are supporting the long-term recovery and rehabilitation of communities. This includes the reconstruction of water supply and sanitation systems in 100 communities where existing supplies were destroyed. The construction of disaster resilient housing is also well under way, with 106 new homes now constructed, and another 200 homes in the planning process.

Safe residences are vital for families in Fiji, where it is estimated that around 140,000 people live in substandard housing conditions. Unfortunately, when a cyclone like Winston occurs, these homes offer little protection and it is these vulnerable groups who are usually hit the hardest. Not only are homes destroyed, but livelihoods and essential infrastructure.

Taito and his family are one of the lucky ones. Having previously resided in a makeshift home cobbled together from scrap iron and tarpaulin, Taito’s family partnered with Habitat to build a new home, which only a month later was put to the test when Cyclone Winston hit. The house remains standing today.

Evidence shows that children are particularly vulnerable when disasters strike. Reducing environmental risks is now recognised as a critical child protection issue, particularly in developing countries, like Fiji, where people are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events. The work of ChildFund and other non government organisations is increasingly turning to disaster risk reduction – building community capacity to cope with disasters and conflicts, and providing relief when disasters strike, so that children are safer and communities are more resilient in the face of natural, political or economic crisis.

ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence said: “While we can’t stop disasters from happening, we can reduce their impact by taking such precautionary steps before they occur.”

“The implementation of disaster risk reduction measures is vital if communities are to have the skills and knowledge to minimise injury and loss during an emergency. By working in partnership with Habitat, we have not only been able to help children and families during the emergency phase, but can help protect them against severe weather events in the future.”

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