At this time of extraordinary change and anxiety across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anglican Church of Melanesia is facing an additional trauma with the onslaught of a tropical cyclone. Cyclone Harold formed off the Solomon Islands in early April and caused loss of life and damage in those islands before moving on to Vanuatu where it wreaked widespread destruction before turning to Fiji and Tonga.
In Vanuatu over 5,000 people have been made homeless and many communities have been struggling without water, food or power. Supply routes are damaged and crops have been stripped from the land.
In a message to the Church, the Bishop of the Diocese of Central Vanuatu and New Caledonia, James Tama, said: “Tropical Cyclone Harold has wreaked havoc upon our communities in Santo with over 500 households completely destroyed and others in dire need of repairs and renovation. Our villages have been left without water, communication and food shortages are expected in the coming weeks.”
Bishop Tama said that Vanuatu is facing the devastation of the second Category 5 cyclone in a space of five years, and this time in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The Red Cross has described the situation in Vanuatu as ‘catastrophic’.
THE RIGHT REVEREND JAMES TAMA. BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF VANUATU AND NEW CALEDONIA (DOVNC).By. ACOM Vanuatu
Posted by Anglican Church of Melanesia on Thursday, April 9, 2020
Tagolyn Kabekabe, Anglican Alliance Regional Facilitator for the Pacific, said: “Tropical Cyclone Harold swept across our tiny, vulnerable nations leaving behind trails of destruction. Thankfully we did not lose many human lives to the storm. We are seeing COVID-19 taking many lives in many affluent countries, which would indeed be catastrophic for us.”
It is indeed a challenging situation: to respond to the cyclone’s destruction while taking action to prevent COVID-19. The countries in the Pacific have been praised for their early and strong responses to the pandemic. While governments in the region and the United Nations are providing emergency humanitarian funding, there were some concerns that the efforts to keep COVID-19 out of Vanuatu might hinder the usual international efforts for humanitarian relief. As of 25 April the Anglican Church of Melanesia reports that Vanuatu’s international borders remain closed. Public health and hygiene awareness is on-going and the State of Emergency has been extended for another 30 days.
Meanwhile, the government and churches within Vanuatu have mobilised to respond to the cyclone damage and to COVID-19. NGO and church workers have been allowed by the government to move freely so they are able to do assessments and conduct relief activities while following COVID-19 precautions. They also include COVID-19 awareness raising as part of their relief efforts.
Bishop James Tama reports that the Anglican Church has activated its Emergency Operations Centre to meet the needs of the vulnerable. “Our parish working parties have started clearing the debris throughout each parish. Our clergy our deploying as members of the Health Cluster Emergency Medical Team to provide COVID-19 awareness and spiritual encouragement to affected communities and people living with disability,” Bishop Tama reports.
The Anglican Church is also connecting with the Vanuatu Council of Churches to synergise efforts and is also involved in the regional CAN DO Network for a coordinated response. The Province of Melanesia’s ship, the Southern Cross, may also be deployed for bringing in aid.
Archbishop Leonard Dawea of the Anglican Church of Melanesia said: “The story of the resurrection of our Lord is a story of renewal, transformation of life, new light and a journey of faith for nations, communities, families and individuals. We pray that it will be the story of Melanesia, as we continue to live with the fear of COVID-19 and the aftermath of Cyclone Harold. We pray that the new light of Christ’s resurrection will renew and transform those fears and take us on a new journey of life.”
Bishop Tama has made this appeal: “I call on all partners of the Anglican Church and the Anglican community at large to assist us in this time of great need – so that we may rebuild, we may build back our communities and we may resume the mission of the church.”
“The trees and gardens may be destroyed, but our spirit remains intact. Our homes and families may be struggling but our faith and our Church remain standing,” Bishop Tama concluded.
The Anglican Alliance has been in touch with the Church in Melanesia and with the Anglican agencies which are responding to the situation in Vanuatu.
Please pray for the Anglican Church of Melanesia at this time of great challenge. If you would like to give, here are some links for the various appeals to support the church response to this latest cyclone disaster while facing the humanitarian and economic impacts of COVID-19:
Anglican Board of Mission, Australia
Anglican Missions, Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Anglican Overseas Aid, Australia
For information on COVID-19 and how churches around the Anglican Communion are responding, please visit the Anglican Alliance COVID-19 Resource Hub.