Tropical Cyclone Winston caused widespread damage in Fiji in February 2016, and also affected some areas of Tonga. It is the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded to make landfall in Fiji, causing 44 deaths and affecting up to 350,000 people.
Australia worked closely with the Government of Fiji to support its immediate response and is now assisting the Government as it transitions to the longer term recovery and reconstruction phase.
Foreign Minister Bishop visited Fiji on 13-14 March. She met with Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel deployed as part of Operation Fiji Assist on HMAS Canberra, toured Koro Island and Rakiraki, and met with Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and Disaster Management Minister, Inia Seruiratu.
Australia's Humanitarian Assistance to Fiji
To date, the Australian Government has provided AUD35 million of assistance to Fiji in response to Tropical Cyclone Winston. This includes the latest assistance package of AUD20 million to provide ongoing reconstruction support to Fiji, aimed at returning life to normal, giving Fijians back their schools, medical clinics and livelihoods.
Australian support will be underpinned by the principle of ‘building back better’ which will rebuild infrastructure and communities that are more resilient to natural disasters. This support will focus on developing skills and maximising employment through the rebuilding of schools and health facilities destroyed by the cyclone, replacing damaged medical equipment and restoring water and sanitation services. Australian support will also repair damaged markets, including building accommodation facilities for women vendors, enabling farmers and market vendors to return to work.
This early recovery support builds on Australia’s already committed humanitarian support of AUD15 million. This support reached over 200,000 people affected by the cyclone, including by providing life-saving supplies such as clean water and hygiene, and shelter, access to education and medical facilities and protection services for those most vulnerable. This assistance was complemented by extensive ADF support.
In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, an Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) consisting of 21 doctors, nurses and medics provided emergency medical care for more than 1,700 people in Fiji. Australia is supporting Fiji’s Ministry of Health to restore its cold chain system for vaccines which was damaged in the cyclone, to ensure that essential and life-saving vaccinations can continue to reach communities. Australian funding is also providing medical equipment and supplies to ensure that pregnant women can continue to give birth safely, pregnant and breastfeeding women continue to have access to essential health care and women’s reproductive health needs are met.
Australian support has also focused on education, working with Fiji’s Ministry of Education to get Fiji’s children back into school as quickly and safely as possible. 497 schools in Fiji were damaged, destroyed or otherwise affected by the cyclone. Working with partners UNICEF and Save the Children, Australia is providing temporary learning spaces, educational materials, water and sanitation, psychosocial support and school feeding programs to the most affected schools. On 1 April, Australia committed a further AUD1 million to repair and restore 26 cyclone-affected primary schools and provide literacy and numeracy kits.
Through Australia’s ongoing bilateral aid program, Australia has provided grants of over AUD1.5 million to local non-government organisations (NGOs) to contribute to the relief efforts by providing communities with water, shelter, food, seedlings, medical services, psychosocial support and other much needed relief items. These NGOs are also helping to restore water and sanitation services and provide child-friendly spaces in communities.
Approximately 1,000 ADF personnel were also deployed to Fiji under Operation Fiji Assist 2016. HMAS Canberra, Australia’s largest navy vessel, arrived in Fiji on 1 March carrying approximately 60 tonnes of emergency relief and humanitarian supplies, MRH-90 helicopters and approximately 760 ADF personnel including engineers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers who worked with Fiji authorities to conduct engineering assessments and commence recovery efforts.
ADF personnel removed debris, restored critical infrastructure, supplied fresh drinking water and delivered lifesaving supplies to the islands of Koro and Taveuni. ADF assistance to villages and settlements on Koro Island included distribution of food rations, hygiene kits, drinking water and shelter kits; repairs to seven primary schools, one high school and two medical centres; and restoration of the water supply.
ADF aircraft were used to provide life-saving supplies and equipment to the people of Fiji. Seven MRH-90 helicopters facilitated personnel and supply movements, and C-17 and C-130 flights delivered more than 520 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and equipment.
HMAS Canberra departed Fiji on 25 March, having successfully completed its first operational deployment. The ADF deployment to Fiji under Operation Fiji Assist formally concluded its mission on 19 April 2016 to coincide with the end of the State of Natural Disaster declared following Tropical Cyclone Winston. For almost two months, at the request of the Fiji Government, the ADF provided extensive life-saving supplies, equipment and expertise to the people of Fiji.
Please visit the Smartraveller website for the latest Australian travel advice for Tonga and Fiji.
If you would like to contribute to Australia’s response to Tropical Cyclone Winston please consider donating to an agency working with affected communities. Often the most effective way to support the relief effort in countries affected by disasters is by providing cash donations through organisations responding to the crisis. The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has a list of ACFID-accredited non-government organisations. ACFID also has detailed information about public donations.
Follow @AusHumanitarian on Twitter and the Australian High Commission in Suva's Facebook page for more information about Australia's humanitarian response.