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UN releases $2.5 million to help cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations released $2.5 million from its emergency humanitarian fund on Monday to help thousands of people in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu affected by Cyclone Harold and offered support to other hard-hit countries.

The cyclone made landfall on the largest island in Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo, on April 6 before hitting the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga. The U.N. cited media reports saying the storm left more than two dozen people dead, and destroyed homes, buildings and crops in the four countries.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Sunday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “deep solidarity with the people of the Pacific as they face the impact of this cyclone along with other climate-related challenges, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, which adds a worrying new dimension to existing vulnerabilities.”

The secretary-general “stands ready" to support recovery efforts, he said.

In Vanuatu, the U.N. humanitarian office said, “Initial assessments suggest as much as 90 per cent of the population in Sanma, the most affected province ... lost their homes, and more than half of all schools and almost a quarter of health centers were damaged.”

It said “crops have been destroyed and many communities are now cut off from help because of flooding and the destruction of roads.”

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who announced the release of the $2.5 million for Vanuatu on Monday, said: “Thousands of people urgently need shelter, water and food to survive.”

He praised the government and first responders for ensuring people were safe before the storm and meeting immediate needs immediately after.

But Lowcock said: “As the extent of the destruction becomes clear, this U.N. funding will ensure aid supplies are maintained and reach the people who need it.”

He said it was especially important to support Vanuatu at a time when “the COVID-19 pandemic touches us all,” adding that the U.N. aid will help the country rebuild which is essential if it is to successfully fight the virus.

The U.N. said that to facilitate the movement of aid supplies, the government has eased in-country travel restrictions and lifted restrictions on domestic air and sea operations.

Vanuatu, with roughly 80 islands stretching about 1,300 kilometers and a population near 300,000, was jointly controlled by the United Kingdom and France as the New Hebrides before it gained independence in 1980.

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