A woman clears debris from the front of her home after Tropical Cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm on record in the southern hemisphere, struck the Fiji islands in February. Photo: Laurie Felder
UMCOR partners with the Methodist Church in Fiji to provide assistance after Tropical Cyclone Winston bore down in late February
By David Tereshchuk*
After what local people called a “monster” of a storm struck the South Pacific islands of Fiji, with winds approaching 190 miles per hour, aid has flowed in to help communities recover.
Tropical Cyclone Winston bore down in late February and was classed as Category 5 (the most intense). When it hit the islands it was reported to be the most powerful storm on record in the southern hemisphere. It killed 42 people and made tens of thousands homeless. Fiji’s 875 evacuation shelters found themselves coping with nearly a tenth of the country’s entire population.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) swiftly made a new partnership with the Methodist Church in Fiji (MCIF) in order to provide assistance.
As well as the inevitable food and water shortages, the population were suffering another major lack. The electricity supply—never extensive throughout the archipelago to begin with—was badly affected by Winston.
A new grant from UMCOR is aimed at enabling inhabitants of a large stretch of small islands to turn the lights on. Wholly new lights, in fact, are going to more than 3,000 households (nearly 20,000 people) with homes on the islands of Koro, Moturiki, Makogai, Batiki, Nairai, Ovalau, and Vanua Balavu.
In Fiji’s roughly 300 scattered islands, home lighting has overwhelmingly been achieved by burning kerosene, which is polluting, toxic, and a fire-hazard. In its place, thanks to MCIF and UMCOR, will now be able to count on lightweight solar lamps, which are powered up during the day by the renewable resource that Fijians possess in abundance—sunlight.
Two of UMCOR’s executive secretaries, Laurie Felder for International Disaster Response and Yovanna Troansky for Disaster Risk Reduction, journeyed to Fiji and held partner consultations with MCIF leadership and the church’s disaster management committee.
“We were able to see firsthand the effects of the cyclone,” said Felder, “and hear much from MCIF about the situation on the ground two months after the crisis.”
The UMCOR executives were encouraged by the church’s desire to take collaboration further, including in the field of disaster risk-reduction, an approach MCIF wants to advance with UMCOR’s help.
While there, Felder and Troansky had a taste of a cyclone zone’s often tenuous hold on normal life, and, of course, the perpetual need for preparedness. During their travel, warnings of another tropical cyclone, this one called Zena, ensued. It mercifully skirted past Fiji, but the Nadi area, on the main island of Viti Levu, was seriously flooded by sudden, heavy rains that dramatically broke the dry spell following Winston.
As they consulted with their MCIF colleagues, Troansky and Felder put UMCOR’s guiding principles into practice. Troansky said: “We were looking for opportunities to ensure that the implementation of projects is guided by the best practices in humanitarian response.”
She added, “The most important thing is that communities are assisted in ways that reflect their rights and dignity.”
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will help communities like Fiji’s islanders in responding to disasters and reducing future risks.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to UMCOR.org