Potential Food Security Crisis Brews in the Pacific Following Cyclone Evan

1/9/2013 10:07:21 AM

When Tropical Cyclone Evan powered through Polynesia last month, it became clear that long term consequences would be possible. With its circuitous, slow-moving storm track, and eventual power up to a peak Category 4 storm, Evan was the worst cyclone to impact both Samoa and Fiji in 20 years.

Extremely strong Tropical Cyclone Evan impacted Pacific Island nations including Samoa and Fiji last month. NGOs are mobilizing to address a potential food security crisis.

Now, three weeks after Evan met its end as a remnant low over New Zealand's North Island, the humanitarian consequences for the Pacific Islands are crystallizing. According to reporting from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in Samoa, over 12,000 people were affected and nearly 700 houses destroyed. In Fiji, nearly 12,000 people were displaced in evacuation shelters at the storm's peak, and initial damage estimates total $75 million.

In both nations, damage assessments continue as Evan impacted residences, farms, and infrastructure (some parts of Samoa may be without water for months). The international community is mobilizing immediate relief supplies such as tarps and water purification tablets.

Both Samoa and Fiji were hit extremely hard in their agricultural sectors--resulting in a disruption to local food production and international exports that has the potential to become increasingly serious. According to Andy Thompson, the Sanitation Adviser for Oxfam New Zealand, in Samoa, "Crops and plantations have been severely affected...In around a month's time we'll see some problems with food supply and people eating a lot more rice. There's a lot of food that's on the ground at the moment. Taro and crops are rotting in the ground." Fiji's farming activities were also strongly impacted according to early reports.

The prospect of a food security crisis in tropical island nations following a cyclone impact has been a common theme in recent years. In 2011, the Pacific Island of Vanuatu suffered three landfalling cyclones that caused a food shortage after crops such as breadfruit, taro, yams, and bananas were destroyed. Just last year, Hurricane Sandy ravaged Haiti's vulnerable food staples as well, resulting in what may become an extremely tenuous situation over the coming months for 1.5 million people.

Supporting Response to Evan

Oxfam's local partner organizational Women in Business Inc is already fully engaged on the ground in Samoa assessing agricultural damage and providing critical guidance to residents--including how to preserve fruits from fallen trees, how to immediately take tree cuttings from crops such as breadfruit, cocoa, limes, and lemons, and how to properly replant coconuts. While Oxfam is coordinating response operations including the provision of safe drinking water, Women in Business Inc is working with farmers on the devastated south Samoan coast, and is leveraging the organization's capacity to provide seeds and farming tools. Click here for more information about Oxfam's appeal for Cyclone Evan.

In Fiji, the Red Cross is working on sheltering and immediate response issues, as well as damage assessments. The Australian NGO, the Organic Matters Foundation, also coordinates sustainable agricultural programs in Fiji, and is assessing the extent of Evan's devastation.

[Via: AccuWeather - Jim Andrews, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs/ReliefWeb, Oxfam Australia and Oxfam New Zealand, Radio New Zealand International, Zomppa.com, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Organic Matters Foundation.]

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