In a radio interview with the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), Jess Sexton, Program Officer for Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) spoke about the development work of the church in Melanesia and their response to the disaster. You can listen to the interview here:
Jess highlights the response of the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) to the destruction of Cyclone Pam at the beginning of March.
Jess said, “The destruction was just incredible. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. The scenery changed from being lush tropical rainforests … as you travelled further south the islands became these bare, barren hills, with just sticks. All the leaves had been blown off, buildings had collapsed …”
Churches are often in the very centre of villages, and often the most stable structure. Jess said, “It is important that people have that structure to turn to. People in the vulnerable areas were able to be relocated to the diocesan offices, which is often a strong structure on high ground.”
ACOM, with support from ABM, has been working to deliver adult literacy and also water and sanitation programmes throughout the northern provinces. The programmes are run in partnership with local churches, and have helped support education, health and disaster risk reduction projects. Tanks and toilets that have been installed were instrumental in minimising the impact of the cyclone. Jess said:
“I saw the essential need for these kinds of infrastructure. As the cyclone went past, water resources that people would use for drinking and washing became contaminated … Having the tanks established was a real success of the programme because people were able to come and get clean drinking water, and have a reliable source to depend on. Without these resources you are setting yourself up for a second disaster; water-borne diseases and sickness that comes from contaminated water can be devastating to communities after a cyclone.”
The interview also notes the need to reduce the risk of climate-driven poverty. Islands like Vanuatu are among the most vulnerable to climate change, while contributing least to the climate crisis. Climate change is one of the foremost priorities for the church in the region and they are working together with the communities of islands such as Banks and Torres to relocate entire villages within the next five years.
Julianne Stewart, Programs Director for ABM, said, “We are continuing to work both with ACOM and with the other churches and church organisations to work out a suitable and sustainable mechanism for channeling funds for the immediate and longer term disaster response, and increased disaster risk reduction among church communities in Vanuatu.”
Elizabeth Perry, who was visiting Honiara with the Anglican Alliance when the cyclone hit, spoke on BBC radio in the UK to highlight the church’s response. The recording is available at 1:10:33 here:
Elizabeth was due to travel to Vanuatu when the cyclone hit. She said, “My heart bleeds for the people who are facing the trauma of what they are going through at the moment, and whose lives have literally been ripped to shreds. It’s horrendous to think of the scale of the devasatation that people are now having to cope with.”
Elizabeth continues, “These are resilient people – often the media has portrayed people in this position as needy and vulnerable, but these people are used to coping with difficult situations. They will rebuild their lives. But they do need help from outside – the scale of the disaster is massive.”
Elizabeth highlighted the role of the church as an immediate responder to disasters, and also noted their long-term impact: “The church is involved in the ongoing response and is really important as a sustained presence, particularly in areas of rehabilitaion and trauma counselling – they are there for the long term.”
How can I help?
1. Practically – please support the Anglican appeals linked below.
2. Spiritually – please pray for recovery of the communities affected by Cyclone Pam.
You can support the Anglican response to the disaster at https://anglicanalliance.org/news/20081/
An eyewitness report from Vanuatu is at https://anglicanalliance.org/news/20098/
In the picture: ABM staff member, Isabel Robinson officially opened the Stonehill Water Tank in Vanuatu last year. © ABM/Isabel Robinson, 2014.