Cyclone Pam casts pall over Vanuatu seasonal workers in NZ

17/03/2015

Repercussions of Cyclone Pam’s devastation in the Vanuatu archipelago last week are being felt by the country’s seasonal farm workers here in New Zealand.<!--more-->

[caption id="attachment_7014" align="alignleft" width="138"]<a href="https://pacifictradeinvest.com/PTI/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/rsz_m_vila_kidsinboat_1.jpg"><img class="size-full wp-image-7014" alt="The full extent of the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu is still not clear." src="https://pacifictradeinvest.com/PTI/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/rsz_m_vila_kidsinboat_1.jpg" width="138" height="104" /></a> The full extent of the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu is still not clear.[/caption]

The breakdown in communications between Port Vila and the outer islands have left many of the ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers extremely worried, says McKenzie Kalotiti, Vanuatu’s Consul in New Zealand.

Speaking to Pacific Periscope he said, “Right now, the immediate concern is the lack of information. It has caused a lot of uncertainty. It has been difficult to get any news or status reports especially from the outer islands, which is where many of our workers come from.”

More than 1000 ni-Vanuatu workers are estimated to be working in New Zealand at this time under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Cyclone Pam, which at last count has claimed 24 lives (the final count is expected to be higher), has brought down the country’s telecommunications network and left communities throughout the archipelago without power. Gale force winds, incessant downpour and several meter-high swells conspired to damage 90 per cent dwellings in capital Port Vila, according to aid agencies’ estimates. The damage to infrastructure is only now beginning to be assessed.

Mr Kalotiti said the seasonal workers’ employers had offered to fly down any ni-Vanuatu employee who wished to return to their home country ahead of the conclusion of their contract, “under a special dispensation.” With the lack of information, it was hard for the workers to decide whether they needed to go back to be with their families and help in the rebuilding process.

“As phone networks begin to be restored, we are hopeful they will be able to get in touch with their families to make informed decisions,” he added. Meanwhile several phone and mobile networks have announced free calls between New Zealand and Vanuatu. With commercial flights restored workers are now able to fly to Vanuatu at short notice.

Pacific Islands Trade &amp; Invest (PT&amp;I) NZ has been associated with the RSE programme since inception and has conducted financial literacy programmes and information sessions for workers about investing back in their native communities.

Expressing concern at this unfortunate situation, Pacific Islands Trade &amp; Invest (PT&amp;I) NZ Trade Commissioner Michael Greenslade said workers having to go back before their contracts concluded would have a negative impact on their incomes. “Incomes from seasonal employment add significantly to Vanuatu’s inward remittances pool, which is small when compared to other Pacific Island nations,” he said. “Workers have been known to invest their earnings in small businesses, creating employment and contributing to the local economy.”

Mr Greenslade also said the cyclone’s devastation would deeply affect the country’s small but vibrant SME sector -- particularly farming and agribusiness -- as well as its impressively growing tourism and hospitality industry. “PT&amp;I will particularly focus on working alongside Vanuatu’s exporters in their efforts to build their markets in New Zealand as the long rebuilding process begins.”

Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale has said years of development have been wiped out and the country must start over. A number of charities have dedicated themselves to rehabilitating the country’s displaced and rebuilding basic infrastructure. You can help these organisations by contributing generously. Here are a couple of links:

New Zealand Red Cross: <a href="https://www.redcross.org.nz/">https://www.redcross.org.nz/</a>

Oxfam: <a href="http://www.oxfam.org.nz/">http://www.oxfam.org.nz/</a>

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