Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has pledged long-term support for Vanuatu during a visit to the Pacific nation ravaged by Tropical Cyclone Pam.
Ms Bishop, who flew in on a Royal Australian Air Force flight, toured the command centre for cyclone relief efforts in the capital Port Vila, and visited a school and hospital being rebuilt with Australian assistance.
She also met with Vanuatu’s prime minister Joe Natuman and promised on-going support.
“Australia has responded quickly to requests from the government of Vanuatu, we have sent more than 11 military planes over with equipment, lifesaving supplies, humanitarian support personnel,” she said.
Thousands of people remain homeless in the stricken country, as Vanuatu’s government coordinates relief efforts to get immediate aid to more than 60 inhabited remote islands in the archipelago.
It has begun to send out food aid and seedlings to parts of the country hit hardest by Cyclone Pam after a week of assessments and planning.
The RAAF plane carrying supplies and aid workers arrived today, and HMAS Tobruk is scheduled to arrive tomorrow to help with relief efforts, joining two black hawk helicopters that arrived yesterday.
Ms Bishop urged Australians to travel to Vanuatu once the initial crisis was over and use their tourist dollars to help rebuild the country.
She said Australia would consider helping by expanding work opportunities for Vanuatu citizens, in addition to $10 million of aid already pledged.
Ms Bishop also met with the young Australian volunteers who were out of contact for almost a week on two remote islands before consular officials found them and flew them back to Port Vila.
The head of the United Nations’ Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, said there were a number of people who urgently needed food and water supplies and assistance rebuilding shelter.
“This is not something that is going to go away. This is something that is going to get more and more severe the longer it takes to reach them,” he said.
“On the plus side, the government is doing a fantastic job in assessing what the needs are.
“They’ve already started moving food, water, shelter and medicine down to the worst affected areas.”