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Water & Sanitation

Let's not drop the ball on Vanuatu

Flickr- 350.org

I see it happen time and time again. Whenever a natural disaster strikes, news of the event is everywhere. People from around the world rally together and donate what they can, and conversations over dinner are dominated with concerns over those who’ve been affected.

But shortly thereafter, we move on. The news is filled with new stories, and our dinner conversations follow the latest trend. We assume world leaders and international organizations have it covered, so we no longer worry about those whose lives have been disrupted.

This is one bad habit we MUST break.

It’s time for a reality check: Whether it’s a tsunami or a hurricane, these types of disasters wreak havoc on affected areas. The kind of havoc that takes months, even years, to recover from. And that’s exactly what’s going on in Vanuatu right now.

On March 13, Cyclone Pam devastated the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu with 168 mph winds, destroying homes and infrastructure. The majority of the 252,800 Vanuatu population was affected by the cyclone. Although the death count was thankfully low (11 were confirmed dead), much of the population is now in serious danger.

Today, over a month after the disaster, more than 100,000 people lack access to safe drinking water.

According to Ketsamay Rajphangthong, chief of UNICEF Vanuatu field office, "There is water but quality is not that good because of the contamination.”

Now that’s a problem. People who drink unclean water are at risk of diarrhoea and other types of disease. And while diarrhoea may sound to some like nothing but an embarrassing, uncomfortable nuisance, the truth is it can be deadly. Just to give you an idea, WaterAid reports that “around 500,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation”.

Adding to the sense of urgency, women and children are especially at risk. Now with shower facilities and toilets further away, women and children must choose between defecating in the open, or walking further from home- opening themselves up to the risk of abuse.

So here’s where Vanuatu currently stands: 70% of water wells have been contaminated, and all sites outside of the capital Port Vila require water purification, according to UNICEF. The agency has been distributing water purification tablets and sheets of plastic to collect rain water as temporary solutions, but it is $1.5 million USD short of its funding target to reach all those in need.

Rajphangthong explained, "We are still trying to talk to donors and different governments so we can get the additional funds so we can really finish the renovation of (damaged) facilities because this is very urgent. We have been supporting the government and working with other U.N. agencies and NGOs to make sure that we assess the damage and try to help the people to get back to their lives as soon as possible.”

Vanuatu is a prime example of how we can’t drop the ball on providing aid to the world’s most vulnerable people. Whether it’s a country that’s been devastated by a natural disaster, or a country that is working to lift its people out of poverty, these things take time. As global citizens, let’s not consider our work done so long as people are unable to access basic human rights. Sign the petition in TAKE ACTION NOW to ensure all people have access to safe water and sanitation.