Election may speed up cyclone relief . . .
On Monday, Vanuatu’s newly-elected members of parliament selected Bob Loughman as the next prime minister over a month after Vanuatuans headed for the polls in an election disrupted by voting and counting irregularities. Compounding the situation, on April 6 a Category 5 cyclone walloped the South Pacific nation, killing three people and, in some parts of the country, destroying close to 70 per cent of standing structures. The new prime minister, who announced his cabinet on Tuesday, is expected to “spur on a faster and targeted response” to cyclone-related shortages of food, shelter and medicine.
International aid delayed by COVID-19 . . .
Vanuatu is one of the last remaining countries with no officially confirmed cases of COVID-19. Nonetheless, effects of the pandemic have rippled across the country. Despite the urgent need for help, overseas aid workers have been denied entry, and donated supplies such as blankets, hygiene kits, and shelter kits must first stay in quarantine for three days before they can be distributed. These delays have proved critical, particularly in the cyclone-devastated north, where local medical workers remain unable to work because their own homes have been destroyed, and where thousands are running out of food and water.
Similar challenges across the South Pacific . . .
The hospitality and tourism sector accounts for more than 40 per cent of Vanuatu’s GDP, and it is unclear how businesses and workers will make ends meet under worldwide travel restrictions. Worse, should the disease begin spreading domestically, the toll could be devastating. There are two ventilators in the entire country, and the main hospital has only 20 available beds. Challenges Vanuatu faces are commonplace across the South Pacific. A study based on eight Pacific countries shows that in 2017, there were 0.8 international visitors for every resident, showing the region’s great dependence on tourism. At the same time, experts fear that the small and fragile health systems in the region are ill-equipped to handle potential outbreaks, particularly given that many Pacific islanders are already in poorer health and have lower levels of immunity to outside diseases.
- The Diplomat: Pandemic in the Pacific: COVID-19 to hit Pacific economies hard
- The Guardian: Vanuatu elects new prime minister as country reels from devastating cyclone
- Time Magazine: This tiny nation has zero coronavirus cases. After a devastating cyclone, it’s refusing foreign aid workers to keep it that way