The frustration of being in the middle of it and receiving nothing.
It is perplexing, and says a lot about the patience of Ni-Vanuatuan people, to be just as much in need as the next area, but to be reduced to sitting and watching all the relief pass through. To get to any part of Tanna other than on the Whitegrass coast (where the airport, main wharf, Lenakel and Isangel lie), all main roads pass through Central region. The logic is inexplicable, that in a situation where humanitarian aid should be provided quickly to the greatest numbers, that one of the most concentrated, and easiest areas to deliver it to, is all but ignored.
To be fair, the people of the region have been restless. There was a threat of a riot in the region, that was able to be diffused by those with cool heads, and two chiefs from a more distant part of Central raided a distribution point of 100 bags of rice out of sheer frustration. The two chiefs spent twelve hours in jail, and had the amount taken deducted from their subsequent aid release.
Agreement on Numbers of Persons at L.D.S
Before any aid could be released from central distribution stores, the numbers catered for by the distribution centre had to be agreed on. This was quite frustrating as the Central distribution were disputing figures that had been prepared and put into spreadsheets by themselves. Four weeks after the event the numbers collected at the commencement of the relief program had not been cross-checked, and seemed to be a sticking point for any consideration of distribution sign off.
Is the criticism harsh and unfair, yes definitely. It is an extreme time and people are doing their best to get a job done that has never been required before in Vanuatu. However, that is small consolation to the person in the bush with nothing.
To ensure that the whole relief program was equitable, there is definitely a need for cross-checking as :-
• Whole villages, on the fringe of the Distribution Point boundaries, appeared to be assigned to more than one Distribution Point, and some were understood to have already had a Distribution.
• There was also some duplication in numbers within villages as within Provincial Council, a number of spreadsheets are made up from the collected population data, and from which there appeared to be significant cutting and pasting ruling in numbers being counted twice in some cases.
Obviously, the errors in the lists are found on the first distribution, so theoretically subsequent distributions should have a smoother passage.
Direction of Central Distribution to LDS Distribution Point 9th of April – early evening.
Central distribution did not want partial distribution, so agreed to top up food to the L.D.S. distribution centre to a slightly reduced figure. This was to happen first thing on the morning of the 10th April.
Events of Morning Friday 10th April.
Central Distribution, without explanation reduced the numbers of persons to approximately 2000, without explanation, but signed release from stores for this amount. The community decided to accept this at the moment and recheck number afterwards.
Quantities of Stores at Central Distribution.
In terms of the quantities held by Central Distribution, there is very definitely reason for concern. Looking inside the stores there is a limited supply of Rice remaining, a very limited supply of fish, no meat whatsoever, no noodles that could be seen, and a limited supply of biscuits (which are not on the ration allocation in any case). News was that there would be no further tinned meat coming at all.
It should be pointed out that while there wasn’t much being held in the large store tent, this is not unusual, as supplies would and should be coming and going all the time. However, it would be expected given that re-distribution is to occur every fifteen days (for a total of three re-distributions), that stocks would build up to cater for this.
As it turned out a large quantity of high energy biscuits came in to Lenakel that day and while not on any ration list, a number were included in the assignment to the LD.S. distribution centre. A couple of ‘makes’ were included, with the main one being from China Aid, both tasting very much like ‘round wine’ biscuits.
Logistics of Supply.
Logistics is a nightmare. There was a Barge arriving at the main beach ready to be unloaded, which became the priority. It was understood that it had biscuits on it, and tarpaulins from CARE The head of logistics who was trying his best, and was concentrating on getting a 5 tonne truck to unload the barge, which would take at least 4-5 hours, leaving little time to transport goods to L.D.S. Central Distribution. It appeared that yet another delay would happen.
News travels by Bush Telegraph
Somehow it has got out within Middlebush that distribution would finally happen, and there were quite a lot of people mingling at the L.D.S. Distribution Point early on the 9th April already. Given this, there was no choice but to distribute what was there sometime that day, on a pro rata basis.
At Last Food Aid is being Distributed in Middlebush.
The community of local volunteers who have been trying to get the aid to the people, had been able to start shifting the extra bags of rice and tinned fish to the distribution point themselves, using Utes and any vehicles that would help. Once it was known that there would be a quantity of relief that could effectively be dealt with, distribution began immediately.
Once food distribution started in the afternoon of the 9th April, it continued through until the end of the 10th, taking one and a half days, even with a team of a dozen or so community volunteers, working non stop to ensure each family received the correct amount, and were checked off the list.
A Personal Note
The L.D.S distribution point is one of, if not the largest Distribution Point on Tanna. The atmosphere around handouts is quite strange, with an air of almost celebration at the commencement, as something good was happening. However, it was also mingled with expectation (the more time went on), which always threatened to spill over into anger if someone missed out.
I was always fearful on how the amounts could be handed out, as we had heard that at other distribution points, they had not followed a numbers procedure, and that it was difficult to know if every man, woman and child had received the rations that the Government genuinely wanted for everybody. We had talked about this: How do you decide to hand out a 25 kg bag of rice if you have four (20kg entitlement), five (25kg entitlement), or 6 ( 30kg entitlement) number of people in the family ? We really did not have sufficient rice to spare.
As it turned out the team under the guidance of Erik Ialulu, did a superb job, and a robust set of scales was found, a strict protocol of handing the items out took place, and subsequent checking off the lists ensured a fair and equitable distribution to the families. Best of all communication was always firm, clear, and frequent leaving no-one in doubt as to what was happening. By great organisation they were able to stretch the supplies evenly, and this continued in the morning of the 13th April for top ups (were families had their number incorrectly recorded).
Commencing on monday 13th April, Tarpaulins from CARE international were being distributed across Central region from ten separate points, at an allocation of one Tarpaulin per family. This appeared to be going well, and would provide sorely needed shelter in the region, where traditional roofs had been destroyed, along with the materials needed to fabricate new ones.
By Greg Watt avid traveller and author of travel websites and blogs. You can keep up to date and share travel insights with Greg at Vanuatu Traveller’s Facebook Page, or with Greg himself on his Google+ Page.