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Tropical Cyclone Harold

Australia is supporting our neighbours in the Pacific to respond to Tropical Cyclone Harold.

The Tropical Cyclone first hit Solomon Islands with a Category 1 rating on 2-3 April 2020, before progressing to Vanuatu on 5 April, where it escalated to a Category 5. The cyclone went on to impact the south of Fiji as a Category 4 on 8 April, before reaching Tonga early on 9 April, having re-intensified to Category 5.

Tragically, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji have lost lives to Tropical Cyclone Harold, with many people injured.

In Vanuatu, over 159,000 people have been affected by the cyclone. Many thousands remain without shelter. The northern islands were worst hit, including the main town of Luganville, Espiritu Santo. Assessments indicate significant damage to schools, agricultural crops, buildings, power, telecommunications and the local boat fleet.

In Fiji, a 30-day Declaration of Natural Disaster began on 13 April 2020. More than 180,000 Fijians have had their homes and livelihoods affected, while 917 homes have been completely destroyed nationwide, and a further 2,629 severely damaged. The agriculture sector has been severely impacted, and there is widespread damage to infrastructure, schools and health centres, particularly to the Kadavu and Lau islands.

In Tonga, reports indicate the western coast of Tongatapu and 'Eua coastal communities have been particularly impacted.

A map of the Pacific region that demonstrates the increasing and then decreasing severity of Tropical Cyclone Harold as it moves from Tonga, to Vanuatu, Fiji and then Tonga.
This graph tracks the path of the Tropical Cyclone Harold from Solomon Islands towards Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga. Source: Tropical Storm Risk - https://www.tropicalstormrisk.com/ (9 April)

Australia's humanitarian assistance

Solomon Islands

Tropical Cyclone Harold passed through Solomon Islands on 2-3 April as a Category 3 cyclone.

Tragically, approximately 27 lives were lost in Solomon Islands when they were swept overboard on a ferry during the storm.

Australia provided the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) with immediate emergency funding to support with damage assessments and an initial clean up.

There are initial reports of wide-spread damage to food gardens, homes, buildings and roads across Honiara, Western Province, Guadalcanal, Makire, Rennell and Bellona.

The NDMO’s first situation report identifies immediate needs as food security, shelter, health and WASH (water and sanitation).

Vanuatu

A village damaged by Tropical Cyclone Harold on Pentecost Island. Credit: Australian High Commission, Port Vila.

Over 159,000 people in Vanuatu have been affected by Tropical Cyclone Harold, including the northern provinces of Sanma (population: 53,344), Penama (32,055) and Malampa (40,917).

Vanuatu Health Emergency Operations Centre has confirmed three deaths from Tropical Cyclone Harold.

More than two weeks after TC Harold hit Vanuatu, damage assessments are starting to indicate the extent of devastation. The Shelter Cluster estimates 17,347 houses were severely damaged or destroyed, leaving around 87,000 people without homes. There is currently only capacity to meet the shelter needs of around 9,950 households, leaving a gap of around 7,397 households (36,985 people). Significant crop damage has impacted food security. There are reports of increases in vector-borne  disease (dengue and malaria), communicable disease (diarrhoea and skin diseases), leptospirosis and conjunctivitis.

Damage assessments from Sanma province have estimated that 80 to 90 per cent of homes, 60 per cent of schools and 20 per cent of medical centres in the province have been damaged. A significant proportion of medical supplies and equipment have been lost. On Pentecost Island, 90 per cent of structures have been damaged. In West Malo, 85 per cent of primary schools have been damaged.

Kenneth Tari in front of his house damaged by Tropical Cyclone Harold at Waterfall village on Pentecost Island. Credit: Australian High Commission, Port Vila.

Australia immediately supported Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office to undertake aerial surveillance to assess the scale of impact. Australia also supported the Red Cross and non-government organisations to release locally pre-positioned relief items, such as shelter, hygiene kits and water containers.  

Following a request from the Government of Vanuatu, Australia is providing a package of initial assistance including:

  • humanitarian relief supplies, such as blankets, lanterns, shelter kits and hygiene kits, and support for logistics in-country;
  • support for the Government of Vanuatu’s response operations, including the crucial areas of health, education and policing; and
  • assistance to international and local NGOs to support the Government's efforts to provide immediate relief to affected communities.

On request of the Government of Vanuatu, three flights have with humanitarian relief supplies have travelled to Vanuatu.

On 13 April, a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A aircraft delivered the first package of emergency relief supplies to Port Vila.

The Australian relief supplies unloaded in Port Vila included hygiene, kitchen and shelter tools, blankets, solar lanterns, sleeping mats, tarpaulins and bed nets. UNFPA dignity kits and a large community tent were also delivered on this flight. 

A second flight, loaded with supplies from Australia’s NGO partners, UNICEF, and the UK’s Department of International Development landed in Vanuatu on 21 April. Supplies included medical equipment and other items requested by the Government of Vanuatu.

On 26 April, a third flight delivered relief supplies from the Australian Government, UNICEF and Australian NGOs.

Australia implemented strict protocols to minimise any chance of transmission of the COVID-19 virus to Vanuatu.

Australia is supporting the Vanuatu Family Health Association, through the IPPF SPRINT program, to provide gender-based violence support, sexual and reproductive health services, and other essential medical care in Penama and Sanma Provinces, reaching 4,500 people.

Royal Australian Air Force personnel use a fork lift to unload and transport palettes of humanitarian aid from a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster III to a holding area at Port Vila airport in Vanuatu on 13 April. Credit: Australian Defence Force.

Fiji

Flooding in Ba town, in Fiji’s Western Division as a result of Tropical Cyclone Harold. Credit: Government of Fiji.

In Fiji, a Declaration of Natural Disaster was implemented for 30 days (starting 13 April).

Prime Minister Bainimarama reported more than 180,000 Fijians have had their homes and livelihoods affected. Nationwide, 917 homes have been completely destroyed, with a further 2,629 severely damaged. The reported cost-implication of damage to private dwellings is FJD 37.3 million. Damage to the Kadavu and Lau islands is reported as the most significant, where the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is citing varying degrees of damage to all health centres.

The agriculture sector has been the most severely impacted. Reports indicate that 100 per cent of cassava and mixed crops (including legumes, roots and maize), 100 per cent of orchards and 63.7 per cent of cultivated lands were exposed to winds exceeding 100km/hour, impacting almost 10,000 ha of crops. A further 20,000 ha of sugar cane plantations has been damaged. The estimated impact on the agriculture sector is reported as exceeding FJD 27 million.

The Ministry of Education has indicated that early assessments have found damage to 59 schools, impacting approximately 11,500 students. Damage to infrastructure nationwide has been costed at FJD 66 million.

Australia is supporting the Government of Fiji to undertake surveillance of the damage and to provide access to prepositioned humanitarian relief supplies.

In response to Fiji’s request for international assistance, Australia is providing:

  • humanitarian relief supplies made-up of shelter kits and tents, kitchen utensils, water containers and personal hygiene items, and;
  • funding for the Fiji Red Cross and non-government organisations to provide community services such as rebuilding, safe access water and sanitation, and counselling support to address specific needs of vulnerable people.

Australia will also directly support the Government of Fiji in their initial response efforts and prioritise the rehabilitation of core services, such as schools and health clinics.

Three flights loaded with humanitarian relief supplies have travelled to Fiji. A Royal Australian Air Force flight landed in Nadi, Fiji on 18 April and also provided an opportunity for Australians to return home. The flight delivered humanitarian relief supplies and personal protective equipment to support Fiji’s response to COVID-19. On 22 April, a second flight to Fiji landed with further supplies to support recovery efforts. A third flight on 30 April delivered additional Australian and UN humanitarian relief supplies in line with Fiji Government requests.

Humanitarian relief supplies are unloaded from the Royal Australian Air Force in Nadi, Fiji on 22 April. Credit: Australian High Commission, Suva.
Fijian officials assess the humanitarian relief supplies that were delivered to Fiji on 22 April. Credit: Australian High Commission, Suva.

Tonga

In Tonga, damage has been reported to resorts on the western coast of Tongatapu, with a number of tourist resorts having been hit severely due to a king tide occurring at the same time as storm surge caused by the cyclone. The impact to other parts of Tongatapu has been relatively minor.

On ‘Eua, significant damage to some key infrastructure, including the main wharf and roads has been reported.

Tongan National Emergency Management Office and Tonga Red Cross have delivered relief supplies to affected communities and households.

Australia has supported the Government of Tonga’s initial response as damage assessments are undertaken.

Australian Defence Force support

On 13 April, a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A aircraft delivered emergency relief supplies to Port Vila, Vanuatu and took the opportunity to help Australians to return to Brisbane in the context of COVID-19 and the cyclone. A second flight to Vanuatu landed on 21 April, delivering supplies from Australia’s NGO partners, UNICEF, and the UK’s Department of International Development. On 26 April, a third flight delivered relief supplies, medical supplies and equipment from the Australian Government, UNICEF and Australian NGOs.

A Royal Australian Air Force flight landed in Nadi, Fiji on 18 April. The flight delivered humanitarian relief supplies and personal protective equipment to support Fiji’s response to COVID-19. On 22 April, a second flight to Fiji landed with further supplies to support recovery efforts. On 30 April, a third and final successful ADF flight delivered additional Australian and UN humanitarian relief supplies.

Australia is committed to implementing strict protocols to minimise any chance of transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Image shows the end of a plane with crates of emergency relief supplies in the foreground
A Royal Australian Air Force plane loads emergency relief supplies for Port Vila, Vanuatu. Credit: Australian Defence Force.

Expertise

One man representing the Vanuatu Red Cross Society passes Australian Aid branded supplies to another man, to be distributed to those affected by the cyclone
Staff from the Vanuatu Red Cross transport emergency relief supplies to be distributed to those affected by the cyclone. Credit: Vanuatu Red Cross.

Australia has activated the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) mechanism and are currently working with NGO partners on a package of assistance. Through AHP, NGOs will reach over 21,000 affected people in Vanuatu with shelter and hygiene supplies, livelihood support and access to counselling services.

Community leaders currently leading the responses in each of these countries include our Disaster READY partners. This partnership is a disaster preparedness and resilience program that is implemented by Australian Humanitarian Partnership partners and their local networks across the Pacific and Timor-Leste. Disaster READY draws on the deep networks and partnerships developed by Australian NGOs in the region to support Pacific communities and governments to better prepare for and respond to disasters, including Tropical Cyclone Harold. The program focuses on ensuring vulnerable groups, including women, people with disabilities and children, are included and accounted for in disaster preparedness, management and risk reduction activities.

A small group of Australians are deployed across National Disaster Management Offices in the Pacific, contributing their expertise through the Australia Assists program.

Offers of Assistance

It is important that offers from the Australian community are carefully matched with the priority needs of the people of Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Solomon Islands during this disaster.

The most effective way you can help the Tropical Cyclone Harold relief effort is to give a cash donation to one of the many Australian non-government organisations appealing for support.

Travel advice and consular assistance

Australians in Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Solomon Islands should monitor our advice on Smartraveller.gov.au and subscribe for updates. Australians should also continue monitoring local sources of information for the latest developments and following the instructions of local authorities.

More information

Media releases

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