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UNICEF NZ Executive Director in Fiji

11 April 2016

UNICEF NZ Executive Director in Fiji to visit affected families

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UNICEF New Zealand's Executive Director, Vivien Maidaborn, is currently in Fiji to see first-hand how UNICEF is responding to the needs of children and families across Fiji.

Just six weeks after Category 5 Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, affecting 40 per cent of the Pacific Island nation’s population, three simultaneous tropical disturbances brought unprecedented rainfall to many parts of the country, including several areas already affected by Cyclone Winston.

Entire communities have been flooded, roads blocked and crops destroyed, deepening the vulnerability of many families dependent on harvests as a key source of income and food. In cyclone-affected communities, the flood waters also washed away newly replanted seeds, erasing recovery efforts including the whole Fiji seed stock.

From her current location of Rakiraki, a town on the northern coast of Viti Levu, Ms Maidaborn said, "The families I have been meeting with have been through so many catastrophic events in the last few weeks. They are mentally and physically exhausted and the parents are worried about the affects all of this upheaval will have on their children, particularly their health and education.

"Children themselves are aware of dramatically reduced lifestyles with their houses broken, food supplies very limited and schools closed. Josiana, 15 years old from Nasolo Village, told us that education is the most important thing in the wake of a disaster and that she hopes to be a teacher someday.

"Iva from Nadi, told me how her household of twenty people, six of which are children, have had to move three times in as many weeks as every time the river floods so does their home. She told me with quiet exhaustion, 'The recent flooding and contaminated water supply means we are all suffering from diarrhoea and the children especially have pink eye (conjunctivitis). We are tired and just want a dry home.'"

The current outlook remains precarious for people in Fiji with health issues continuing to be a priority for UNICEF. Water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea are on the increase, as is conjunctivitis for large parts of the affected population.

Access to clean and safe water for drinking, cooking and washing also continues to be of paramount concern. To date UNICEF has helped to restore access to safe water for 200,000 people.

Ensuring schools can stay open will also help to restore a sense of normality for children of all ages. UNICEF is providing school tents and school supplies so education is not adversely interrupted.

Today in Rakiraki UNICEF staff are seeing school tents, pitched after TC Winston, taken down when TC Zena threatened, now re-pitched for school which reopens this coming Monday. When 494 schools are damaged that job alone is huge.

Ms Maidaborn added, "It will be a long and difficult road to recovery for Fiji and the needs are still immense. Green fronds and new growth are starting to show so while on the surface everything looks alright, poor water, broken schools and homes, lost crops and stalled fishing means support will be needed over the next four months at least.

"We're encouraging communities across the country to combine their efforts and do what they can to raise much needed funds. We've had bake sales, morning teas, pizza doughraisers and music gigs and we're encouraging people to think of ways they can continue to stand with communities across Fiji."

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– Ends –

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