An interlude: Drought and Famine in Vanuatu

This is my first post that has nothing to do with books

– except that if you’re dying of thirst and/or starvation, reading is a fair way down the list of things you’re likely to do. I’m giving you fair warning now; there are details below if you want to donate to help.

600px-Vanuatu_on_the_globe_(Polynesia_centered).svg

Location of Vanuatu (Source)

South Pacific islands are not the first places that come to mind when the word famine is mentioned. However, that’s exactly what’s been happening in the island nation of Vanuatu for a growing number of weeks.

It’s the result of a combination of effects. Category 5 Cyclone Pam ripped through the islands in March, destroying the crops of the Ni-Vanuatu who are primarily subsistence farmers, along with many homes and what little infrastructure existed. The seeds and seedlings planted after the cyclone, however, were vulnerable to the El Niño associated drought that followed. The southern island of Tanna has been badly affected, experiencing severe water and food shortages, and parts have been in a state of famine for some time.

There are reports of at least six children dying from dehydration and starvation,

and probably more in isolated villages. This is happening in a place just over four hours flight time from Sydney.

Water supplies are contaminated and are drying up. Village leaders don’t know what to do. Help has reached some areas, but it has been minimal and not enough to ensure the survival of babies and children, or sick and elderly.

Liberty for the Nations is an organization that has been working in Vanuatu for many years, building and supporting Christian schools in areas where children would otherwise be unlikely to be able to get an education. They are sending immediate help to Tanna from Port Vila as much as funds allow. My Practical Bloke has spent quite a bit of time in Vanuatu over the last few years, and worked alongside the Liberty people for a chunk of that, so we know they’re trustworthy and responsible. The header photo for this blog is one I took while in Vanuatu last year.

Pastor John Tuprick (known by friends as Maxie) and his wife Michelle (pictured below), who live in Port Vila, have been to Tanna to assess the situation. Here is some of their report:

12095195_10205201981996649_642305265181531257_o“Our first village stop was Loanpakel in North Tanna. Skinny kids with scabies, sores and runny noses came out from the bushes to meet us. Save the Children had visited the day before, and assessed that children up to 5 years old are the most underweight and malnourished. Mothers have to walk 2 hours to get water from the river that is contaminated, for cooking and drinking. The river will dry up soon if no rain comes.
“In the North East, we visited Imafen village where 5 children have died in these past few weeks, from the effects of the drought. People there are struggling to survive. The chiefs of this village said they are not coping, they don’t know what to do.
“White Sands area in the east is very badly affected by the drought and volcanic ash. Crops can’t grow well. Everyone is eating unusual food like vine roots. There’s a shortage of water. One chief said, “We don’t have food. We eat all kinds of leaves and vines to survive”.
“During our visit, the NDMO [National disaster management] distributed rice to some communities, one household per bag. Complaints arose from other communities that they hadn’t been given rice. 50 households walked for 2 hours to find rice but it turned out they didn’t receive any.
“Water and nutritious food is what the people need. Just rice is a help, but by itself it won’t stop the children from dying of malnutrition.”

TO GIVE HELP TO TANNA:

Liberty for the Nations

You can check out their  website
To donate to the Tanna famine, you can direct deposit:

Account name: Liberty for the Nations
BSB: 062807
Account No.: 10046782
DESCRIPTION for identification: TANNA FAMINE
Donations are tax deductible if TANNA FAMINE is specified.

or

Global Development Group

Global Development Group is partnering with Liberty for the Nations to help Tanna. To give via Global Development Group, go to the Global Development Group website, and choose Donate. The DESCRIPTION for identification is J738NR. Tax deductible receipts for gifts over $2 sent to GDG for this approved emergency aid project will be issued by Global Development Group.

WHAT YOUR DONATION CAN BUY:
(Based on cheapest prices in Port Vila + shipping to Tanna):

$15 = 1 box water (12 x 1.5 litre bottles)
$40 = 1 box canned fish (24 large tins)
$40 = 1 bag rice (25kg)
$30 = 1 box noodles (60 packets)
$60 = 1 water filter (these are due in Vanuatu in 7-10 days).
Other supplies will be purchased as needed and available.

Liberty for the Nations
PO Box 441
Salamander Bay NSW 2317
0414 293286 / 0249 847698

 

5 Comments

  1. David Stein

    Dear Sheree,
    Following are a few random thoughts on the drought facing the Pacific and a possible solution…at least to drinking water issues.
    As I understand it, the region, including parts of Vanuatu, is experiencing severe drought conditions due to an El Nino event. I would like to suggest that the solar powered desalination of seawater may be worth considering as a solution, or at least a partial solution, to access to drinking water issues…especially in coastal communities. I would be happy to assist with a solar powered seawater desalination project as I have extensive experience with the technology and more than 18 years of experience living and working in Vanuatu.
    A few more details…there is a low cost, low tech, solar powered desalination solution to the access to drinking water problem. I believe that this solution is ideal for coastal communities in the Pacific.
    I posted the following in an attempt to raise awareness of the drought and a way to combat it
    Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink
    There is nothing more dear to us than water. In the developing world lack of adequate drinking water is a leading cause of sickness and death. In fact, the access to clean water problem is one of the most severe problems in the world today.
    In rural Vanuatu and in other Pacific Island Countries much of the population is entirely dependent on rainwater harvesting for their drinking water. This works OK in “normal times” but Climate Change has made these times anything but normal, especially for Pacific Islanders. The region is currently experiencing severe drought conditions caused by an El Nino event, made even more severe by climate change. This means that in many cases the water tanks are empty and the people are thirsty.
    Isn’t it funny that an island, a place surrounded by water, should ever know a water shortage? Maybe we will truly know paradise when we can change salt water into drinking water. Humankind has been dreaming this dream throughout history. Our early efforts to desalt seawater were frustrating. Our recent efforts, though successful, are typically expensive.
    However, we can desalinate seawater using little more than sunshine with a process called solar distillation. Solar distillation works on the principles of evaporation and condensation and mimics the way rain is made. Input water can be seawater and/or dirty water while the output water is fresh and very pure, like rain water.

    .
    Best regards,
    David Stein

  2. David Stein

    Hi Sheree,

    I feel a strong desire/need to return to Vanuatu and lead a solar distillation of seawater project as I believe the distillation of seawater to drinking water is a sustainable solution to access to drinking water issues in coastal communities in the Pacific. I feel that this is particularly relevant on account of the severe drought caused by an El Nino event and other climate induced phenomena.

    As I have had limited success in finding a donor to fund this initiative, I am planning to start a fundraising campaign on the Indiegogo platform. I plan to launch it later this month. Attached is the text of my Indiegogo campaign as it exists today (I’m editing it) and some random thoughts on drought (I apologize for any overlap in these 2 docs.)

    I hope I can count on your financial contribution to this campaign when it goes live. Besides your financial contribution, I hope you will share this campaign with everyone in your network.

    I hope all is well in your world.

    Best,

    David Stein

  3. David Stein

    Indiegogo Campaign

    Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

    In a nutshell…
    This campaign is to help find a sustainable solution to the severe drinking water shortage in Vanuatu and in the entire South Pacific region. We believe that a low cost, low tech, solar powered desalination process, called solar distillation, is the answer. We can make drinking water from seawater using little more than sunshine through solar distillation. And there is plenty of sunshine and seawater in the South Pacific! This is a small but important part of a bigger problem, ensuring that everyone on the planet has access to clean water. For more info please read on…
    Hi, my name is David Stein and I have spent the last 18 years working to improve the quality of life for dwellers of rural Vanuatu through renewable energy. I believe I am uniquely qualified to lead this project because:
    • I have extensive experience with the technology.
    • I was a finalist in 2 World Bank Development Marketplace competitions (2006 & 2009), both were solar powered distillation projects.
    • I have more than eighteen years of experience working in Vanuatu; some as a volunteer, some in the NGO sector, and some in the private sector.
    • I have an adopted “local family” and an extensive local network of people and institutions.
    • I am fluent in Bislama, the lingua-franca of Vanuatu.
    There is nothing more dear to us than water. In the developing world lack of adequate drinking water is a leading cause of sickness and death. In fact, the access to clean water problem is one of the most severe problems in the world today,
    In rural Vanuatu and in other Pacific Island Countries much of the population is entirely dependent on rainwater harvesting for their drinking water. This works OK in “normal times” but Climate Change has made these times anything but normal, especially for Pacific Islanders. The region is currently experiencing severe drought conditions caused by an El Nino event, made worse by climate change. This means that in many cases the water tanks are empty and the people are thirsty.
    However, there is a low cost, low tech, solar powered desalination solution to the access to drinking water problem. It is called solar distillation. Solar distillation can make drinking water from seawater. And there is plenty of seawater in the Pacific Islands. I think that the solar distillation of seawater may be the perfect solution for access to drinking water issues in coastal communities in Vanuatu and throughout the Pacific.
    “Isn’t it funny that an island, a place surrounded by water, should ever know a water shortage? Maybe we will truly know paradise when we can change salt water into drinking water. Humankind has been dreaming this dream throughout history. Our early efforts to desalt seawater were frustrating. Our recent efforts, though successful, are typically expensive.
    However, we can desalinate seawater using little more than sunshine with a process called solar distillation. Solar distillation works on the principles of evaporation and condensation and mimics the way rain is made. Input water can be seawater and/or dirty water while the output water is fresh and very pure, like rain water.”
    Donating to this campaign will give contributors the opportunity to help find sustainable solutions to one of the biggest problems facing humanity today, the access to clean water problem. Further, working to solve this problem in Vanuatu provides us with two additional opportunities: the need is very real and the scale is manageable.
    A few more details about the money…
    We are hoping to raise USD 50,000.00 which will allow us to design and install fully automated solar distillation plants in rural communities in Vanuatu. Specifically we will:
    • Design appropriate solutions. (There is a need to consider each recipient community individually so that an appropriate amount of output water is produced, pumps are sized properly, and adequate storage facilities are provided for.
    • Specify and source suitable materials and equipment from reputable suppliers and get them to the work sites. (Logistics in an island country can be tricky!)
    • Ensure that installations are made to a very high standard.
    • Develop appropriate monitoring protocols. (Are the end users happy with the technological solution? Are they willing to continue using it?)
    • Develop training materials and deliver trainings to recipient communities on the operation and maintenance (which is minimal) of their systems so that operation and maintenance can be done without the need for external support. (Local O & M is key to the sustainability of the project!)
    • Develop training materials and deliver trainings to local personnel on all of the above topics so that this project can be replicated at other sites with minimal external input. (I like this work but I think it would be best if this became a local initiative.)
    Contributors that give USD 15.00 or more will receive a “One Solution Comes Up Every Morning” bumper sticker so that they can show the world their commitment to renewable energy and its role in changing the world. We will happily give a music video/documentary to contributors that give USD 30.00 or more. This will not only immortalize the project in song, you will be able to say, “I made this project happen” when sharing the video with friends and family. Contributors that give USD 50.00 or more will receive both the bumper sticker and the video as a special thank you gift from us.
    If we don’t reach our goal and we are unable to work on solar distillation at any scale, we will donate the funds we have raised to agencies doing Humanitarian Relief work in Vanuatu such as The Red Cross, CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children, and UNICEF.
    The impact…
    In that aid agencies are predicting that this drought will impact millions of lives in the region and that access to clean water is essential for life, every contribution will have a huge impact! It will put us a step closer to ensuring that everyone on the planet has access to clean water.
    We were very successful with our “Lighting Vanuatu” project. We introduced solar lighting to thousands of households across Vanuatu. And in so doing we changed lives! We are confident that this initiative will have an even greater impact as “Water is Life.”
    Other ways you can help…
    We understand that it might be difficult to make a financial contribution but please let your friends and family and everyone on your social media network know about this campaign.
    Besides sharing this on your social media networks, please feel free to use the Indiegogo share tools!

  4. David Stein

    Dear Sheree,

    Please post this (or some derivative of this) on your blog as I think it’s very important that your entire readership is aware of this campaign and this proposed project.

    We’re raising funds on the Indiegogo platform to provide a sustainable solution to a severe shortage of drinking water, primarily in Vanuatu but by extension in the entire South Pacific region. Please read our “blurb” at http://igg.me/at/NOYgUhZ8hYI/x/12391329 to read about what we’re planning and how you can help. If you can contribute financially, that’s great but we understand it can be difficult sometimes to make a financial contribution, but please help us spread the word; let your friends and family and everyone on your social media network know about this campaign. It would be great if it went viral and we beat our goal!

    This project is slightly different from other drinking water initiatives in Vanuatu and the region in that the solution is village based. Villagers can readily operate and maintain the proposed distillation units. I’m fairly confident that this project will be successful because we did a demonstration project of solar distillation technology back in 2003 on Rah Island (Banks Group.) That project was successful (we were able to make drinking water from seawater) and materials and methods have only improved over time. We are planning to automate the system, too.

    Thank you for your help and support in “getting the word out.”

    Best regards,

    David Stein

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