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Vanuatu’s president blames devastating cyclone on changing climate

PortVila, Vanuatu during Cyclone Pam. Creative Commons: Graham Crumb, 2015

Port Vila, Vanuatu during Cyclone Pam. Creative Commons: Graham Crumb, 2015

Over the weekend, a massive storm hit the island nation of Vanuatu with devastating consequences, destroying much of the nation’s infrastructure and displacing thousands. As the nation strains to recover, President Baldwin Lonsdale has placed the blame for the cyclone on climate change.

Cyclone Pam, which made landfall on 13 March, was a category five storm with wind gusts of up to 320 kilometers (200 miles) an hour.

Although the full scale of the damage from the storm is still unknown, it is already clear that it’s effects have been disastrous for the South Pacific island nation

As of this writing, there have been 11 confirmed deaths from the storm. 3,300 people have been sheltering at 37 evacuation centers as homes and buildings have been flattened. 90% have the buildings in capital Port Vila had been damaged or destroyed.

As communications with the many outlying islands are slowly restored and a fuller picture of the extent of the damage becomes know, it is likely that the full measure of the devastation could be even worse than reported now. Rescue and relief teams are working their way out to these more remote islands, although flooding has stopped planes from landing in some areas.

In many of these outlying areas, people are in desperate need of food, water, and shelter. There are no shops in many of these islands and some populations subsist on homegrown crops—crops that are now lost due to the cyclone. Fishing boats have also experience widespread destruction.

In some areas, the island inhabitants have begun to drink salt water for lack of access to clean drinking water. Drinking salt water can lead to dehydration and death as the water already in the body is rerouted to help dilute the excess of salt.

In the face of this destruction, President Baldwin Lonsdale has asserted that climate change is connected with extreme weather events like Cyclone Pam.

President Lonsdale said:

“We see the level of sea rise … The cyclone seasons, the warm, the rain, all this is affected. This year we have more than in any year … Yes, climate change is contributing to this.”

In a strange coincidence the cyclone hit Vanuatu as the third UN world conference on disaster risk reduction began a five-day meeting in Sendai, Japan. The meetings were attended by 4,000 people from 186 countries.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, opened the Sendai meeting with a reminder that annual economic losses from natural disasters are now estimated to exceed US$ 300 billion annually.

Speaking at the meeting, a senior French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, said that that 70% of natural disasters are now linked to climate change, twice as many as twenty years ago.

Addressing the global community, Fabius said “It is necessary to tackle these problems together and not separately,” pointing out that disaster risk reduction and the struggle against climate change are two sides of the same coin.

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