In Fiji, youth are key to Cyclone Winston recovery

Apr 8, 2016

Faisal Ridwan, debris clearance expert, and Namadu youths. Photo: UNDP Fiji / Romain Desclous

In the village of Namadu, on Koro island, cyclone Winston left a trail of destruction. The most severe cyclone recorded in the Southern hemisphere, with wind gusts up to 320 km/h and waves several meters high, destroyed every house and decimating the crops that were essential sources of income and subsistence to the families.

One month after the disaster, huge amounts of debris still remain scattered around the island: large blocks of brick wall, timber and sheets of corrugated iron, used for roofing, and fallen trees are still blocking pathways; broken glass, wood with nails, and all sort of debris, what is left of what used to be household items and goods litter the grounds, making walking across the ruined villages very hazardous. An issue compelled by the fact that, as darkness fall, there is no light to help finding one’s way: power cables have been severed, generators were damages...

While the main roads have been cleared, allowing the population to access health centres, aid to be delivered and kids to return to school, large trees uprooted by the wind are still blocking access to farming lands, preventing farmers from cleaning their plots, planting new seedlings and preparing transitioning from food rations that have been their diet since Winston struck the island.

“Removing debris is an essential stage of early recovery”, said Akiko Fujii, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Fiji. “Their removal and recycling can prevent sanitation and water-borne related diseases, and it will also enable communities in the areas most affected by the cyclone to rebuild or repair damaged infrastructures, businesses or markets”, she said.

As part of its response to cyclone Winston, UNDP reallocated funds from its programmes to better address the urgent needs on the affected population. In Koro island, UNDP reprogrammed USD 50,000 and, together with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, started a cash-for-work programme for up to 500 youths of the most affected villages: they will help safely remove the debris in their communities, paving the way to reconstruction, and will receive a cash payment that will enable them to support their families.

“The youths are the strength of the community,” said Akiko Fujii, “and, together with the Government of Fiji, UNDP has experience in implementing the cash-for-work modality, in particular after cyclone Evan in 2012, to provide some level of livelihood to devastated communities and, at the same time, to assist their early recovery efforts.”

“Youths are an asset to any community, and here in Koro they can help rebuilding lives and villages,” said Emily Erasito, UNDP Manager for the Fiji Youth Strengthening project. “Not only with they be key in removing the debris, they will also empower others, inspire them, to help the community recover from this disaster”.

With the large amount of debris left across the island, youths cannot remove the debris alone. UNDP is providing debris clearance equipment and tools, such as chainsaws, crowbars, steel cutters, shovels or wheel barrows, as well as protective gear. 130 youth from four villages, including 20 women, (Namadu, Naqaidamo, Nasau and Sinuvada) took part in training sessions aimed at demonstrating how to safely manage and remove debris as well as how to dismantle damaged structures.

“We are here to help provide another layer of knowledge on how to safely operate among the debris left by cyclone Winston and basic principles for safe demolition,” said Faisal Ridwan, a debris clearing expert seconded to UNDP by MSB, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. “Some structures need to be knocked down as soon as possible,” he said, pointing to a house whose walls are barely holding together, “so they won’t be a risk to the people nearby”.

“Seeing the devastation around me brings back memories of my home town in Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2014 tsunami,” he said. “Sitting in front of the youths here, I tell them that I was too in their position, having seen my house destroyed and looking for any way to start cleaning the debris and rebuilding. I have experienced the devastation before being an experienced debris management specialist,” he said.

Sitting among the 24 youths of his village attending the training session, Tomasi Koroi, 24, saw his house taken over by the waves. “Clearing the debris is hard work,” he said: “all the trees have been wiped off or stripped of their leaves. There is no shade to protect us from the sun”. “After this training, and seeing the support we are getting,” he said, “I feel positive again”. “My hope is to get the village clean again and rebuild it”.

Losena Waqasolokaca, 30, was hiding with 10 people in the bathroom of a damaged house during the few house the cyclone was on her village. “I already took part in the clearing of debris. It is very hard, but I can do it. With the equipment to remove debris and this training, I hope I can go back to my house soon.”

UNDP has been supporting Fijian youths since 2012, together with the Ministry of Youths and Sports. Funding for engaging the youths through cash-for-work for early recovery efforts was made available by reallocating resources from two UNDP projects: the Fiji Youth Strengthening Project, and Strengthening Citizen Engagement in Fiji Initiative (SCEFI, funded by the European Union).

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