Recovering from a category five cyclone in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu

Thousands of Pacific Island children at risk in the aftermath of tropical cyclone Harold. UNICEF is working with partners to provide vital support.

UNICEF Pacific
05 May 2020


As the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pacific Island countries are faced with two emergencies, all at once.

On 6 April 2020, severe tropical cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu as a category five cyclone, devastating the Pacific Island nation. The cyclone also hit the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga but made landfall in Vanuatu, causing widespread destruction to houses, schools, health facilities, water sources, and crops - the source of income for many ni-Vanuatu families. Thousands of children living in the Pacific Islands are in urgent need in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Harold.

UNICEF is supporting the government responses in Vanuatu, Fiji and Solomon Islands to reach those children most in need, while facing the additional challenges of the ongoing preparedness and response efforts for COVID-19.

Bernadeth and her three children took shelter in this church house that lost parts of its roof and was flooded.

Bernadeth, mother of three, is one of those severely affected by the cyclone in Vanuatu. She, along with her children, Meriam, 6, William, 3, and Shirley, 7 months took shelter in the church house that also lost part of its roof and was flooded when the cyclone hit.

“We could see the roof peeling off and the ceiling tearing up like a piece of paper. At that moment, I lost hope. We were being moved from one corner to another trying to find a spot where the wind and rain would not reach us.”

Aerial view of the Melsisi village in Vanuatu.

The cyclone has caused massive destruction across the region, claiming the lives of 31 people. Vanuatu is the worst affected, with more than a third of the population and over 20,000 children living in the worst affected areas. In many areas, about 90 per cent of the population lost their homes and more than half the schools were damaged.

Albertino, 12, and his younger brother Jeremy, 5, stand in front of what used to be their home in Pentecost, Vanuatu.

Albertino, 12, and his younger brother Jeremy, 5, stand in front of what used to be their home. Their house was completely flattened by the wind. When the cyclone hit, they were evacuated to the community church house, which served as the evacuation centre.  

Inside the cave where eight families took shelter during the cyclone and are still living there while they are in the process of rebuilding their homes.

Of those worst affected are eight families in Malo Island, who had no choice but to take shelter inside a cave during the cyclone. Most of them ran to the cave with their children during the peak of the storm, ducking and stopping to hide by tree stems to avoid flying debris and broken tree branches. They are still continuing to live there while they rebuild their homes.

Nicky, 4, fetches water from a bucket to drink.

Nicky, 4, fetches water from a bucket to drink in Pentecost, Vanuatu. In most affected communities, there is no running water and families have to rely on rainwater or water sources that can often be 3-10kms walk. Access to safe drinking water is a challenge for families and children, following damage to water infrastructure in the worst affected islands.

A teacher and one of her student’s clean their classroom, after the cyclone.

A teacher and one of her students clear debris from their classroom after the cyclone. While schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, children in Vanuatu have suffered the full brunt of two emergencies, which has severely impacted on their education and return to normalcy.

UNICEF personnel on their way to visit cyclone affected islands.

Immediately after the cyclone, UNICEF together with partners was on the ground to support the Government of Vanuatu with initial rapid assessments as well as to provide urgent humanitarian support to children and families affected by the cyclone.

Focus group discussion with women in Melsisi.

Sandrine, UNICEF WASH Officer, leads a focus group discussion in Melsisi, Pentecost, discussing water safety, sanitation and hygiene challenges, with women in cyclone affected communities.

Sandrine, UNICEF WASH Officer explains to Red Cross volunteers contents of the emergency supply kits.

Sandrine explains to Red Cross volunteers the contents of the UNICEF emergency supply kits prior to distribution in affected communities.

UNICEF supplies on their way to cyclone affected islands.
Department of Water Resources - Vanuatu

Many communities still remain cut off from assistance due to flooding and destruction of roads. UNICEF is transporting supplies by boat to reach some communities, including to those on Santo and Pentecost, two of the most affected islands in Vanuatu.

UNICEF, working together with the Department of Water Resources-Vanuatu to deliver emergency clean water to communities in affected islands.
Department of Water Resources - Vanuatu

UNICEF is working together with the Department of Water Resources-Vanuatu to deliver emergency clean water to communities in affected islands, to ensure children and families have access to clean drinking water.

Sandrine, UNICEF WASH officer unloads UNICEF- WASH supplies for Emergency Medical Operation Center in Melsisi.

To reach children and families with life-saving support, UNICEF has provided essential water, sanitation and hygiene items including soap, water containers and buckets. Emergency health and midwifery kits including basic drugs, medical supplies and equipment have also been delivered to assist the health sector provide critical medical care.

Drying up school books that got wet during the cyclone.

School books have been put out in the sun to dry in one of the schools in Malo Island, Vanuatu. UNICEF is supporting communities by providing school-in-a-box and early childhood development kits including books, pencils and materials to support learning needs and help children to regain a sense of normalcy as soon as possible after the disaster. Tents and tarpaulins provided to communities will also assist in restarting children’s learning and provide families with emergency shelter.