As the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, Cyclone Harold quietly ripped through Pacific nations Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga, stripping lives and livelihoods. Faced with a battle on both fronts, we explore the impacts and how you can help.

I write this from lockdown in Spain, one of the countries most cruelly affected by the coronavirus. The harsh impacts of the disease are all too familiar and I worry for my family and friends that I am currently far away from, due to the circumstances.

However, I am grateful to this beautiful country and the absolute strength and support of the friends I have made me understand that I am safe, have a place to lay my head safe at night, food, and security. I know this isn’t the case for everyone. It was by chance I stumbled across an article from the Guardian, amongst the flood of COVID-19 news, that I was made aware of Cyclone Harold that recently ripped through the Pacific nations of Vanuatu, Fiji, Togo and the Solomon Islands.

Screenshot of The Guardian article: "It's all gone': Cyclone Harold cuts a deadly path through Vanuatu" that illustrates the Cyclone damages in Vanuatu
Copyright The Guardian 2020

Leaving a wake of destruction, death and loss, it is hard for one not to break into tears reading the words of survivors like Lord Mayor Patty Peter of Vanuatu: “We urgently need water, food and shelter at the moment. Many have lost their homes. Schools are destroyed. Electricity is down. I’m urgently calling for help, fears of introduction of the deadly virus. This is one of the worst experiences of my life.”

Even though food and water is being distributed, in a country where most rely on subsistence farming to feed themselves, he regretfully shared that what was being distributed was sufficient “just for today and tomorrow. That’s all we can do.”

Whilst the affected small island states have received aid from neighbors like New-Zealand and Australia, it fears the introduction of the deadly virus in a country that already had limited resources has caught the local people in a perfect storm. The transport of necessary supplies and relief is being severely impacted and charitable organizations have already devoted a large part of their resources to fighting the global pandemic.

Satellite modelization that shows on a global scale the size and power of Cyclone Harold of South Pacific region of the world.
Copyright The Weather Network 2020

Each of these island archipelagos have their own unique societies, landscapes, and complex histories. Lush forests, mountains, volcanoes, coral reefs, turquoise waters, beautiful people; these nations are akin to paradise on earth, popular with divers, hikers, surfers, travellers, conservationists and many more.

Shows the perfect setting of South Pacific islands for watersports practices such as snorkeling, sailing, scuba-diving ...
Copyright mvaligursky 2020

However, coastal communities like these island archipelagos are home to some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and communities in the world. Over the years, catastrophic storms like Cyclone Harold become more frequent and devastating. More often, these delicate environments have to regenerate. What is most tragic is that oftentimes, these same peoples and places have been historically exploited, affecting their resilience and have little power in relation to other larger nations.

People are forced to mourn and bury their dead, seek out ever-dwindling resources to rebuild their lives and homes, or face the undesirable decision of uprooting and joining the millions of other climate migrants to seek a life elsewhere- often to face other hardships in foreign lands. It is a situation where we all lose in some way.

Climate Migrants
Copyright Alessandro Grassini 2020

At 12 years old I was temporarily uprooted from my own island home when Hurricane Ivan devastated the Caribbean in 2004. My island was fortunate enough to rebuild relatively quickly and the loss of life was minimal, however witnessing and experiencing the utter destruction and loss shaped a generation. It is something no one should have to experience.

Memorable picture of piled-up destroyed cars after the huge Hurricane Ivan stroke on Cayman Islands.
Copyright Office of the Premier 2020

If you are able to contribute donations to the relief efforts, particularly in Vanuatu, we ask that you visit the National Disaster Management Organisation page and see what assistance is needed and the organisations the government is actually collaborating with to ensure support goes to those who need it most.

To end on a more positive note, check out this article from the Kiteboarder about kitesurfing in Vanuatu to get an idea of what it is like to experience just a few places there! Hopefully we can visit one day.

Check out our partner highlight featuring the UK social enterprise Ocean Bottle who, in collaboration with the Plastic Bank, are helping to fight ocean waste and poverty in coastal communities across the globe.

Gabriella Hernandez

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