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.


Tanna Island Emergency Relief

Government Directive for Emergency Rations



Communication is a wonderful thing, and being here now on the ground a lot is made clearer. From being on outsider only a day ago, and despite being in daily communication with a community in Tanna for most of the time since Cyclone Pam, the amount of vague and conflicting information is substantial.The problem of supplying aid to such a logistically challenging country is enormous, manpower short and focused on ‘doing the job’ rather than ‘informing the people’. Communication and PR, of what is happening at a local level has been relatively thin on the ground.


To say that no aid has been getting though to Tanna Island itself is both correct but incorrect at the same time. There is certainly a presence on the ground, obvious with a strong contingent of Australian Army at the airport with vehicles, assumed to be used for distribution. There are certainly friendly and interact with the local people and a credit to the relief program.

I am sure that at NDMO, there are figures that are coming through that are indicating that certain numbers of supplies and goods have been sent to Tanna, received by Tanna, and in the last week distributed to Tanna. On the other hand at grass roots level, substantial numbers of people at village level have still to receive any aid whatsoever.


There has been an amount of Relief supplies that have been bought into Tanna. It seems (although I have not verified this), that there was an initial thrust of relief that occurred almost immediately after the cyclone, followed by a greater volume and organised supply of relief.


It is quite vague about what happened to the smaller initial relief supply, and whether it went into the bulk storage somewhere ready for distribution, or whether it was distributed (and on what basis) is unclear. It is likely that there wasn’t any significant presence of specific aid transport infrastructure to get any to the more remote and needy areas. It is simply not known what happened to it.


The areas of Tanna Island have been broken up into seven separate regions, or Local Provincial Councils for most administrative purposes, and it is logical that the same applies in regard to Relief Operations. The seven Provincial Councils include :

• West Tanna
• South Tanna
• South East Tanna
• South West Tanna
• Whitesands
• North Tanna
• Central Tanna

Each Provincial Council, has as its members all the tribal chiefs from within that Provincial Area, and the Chairman of each is chosen by each Council. However, the Secretary for each is appointed by the Provincial Council.
With each each of these Provincial Areas, there have been a number of distribution points designated set up within them. These distribution points have been decided in consultation with each local area, but has ended up been a building that is as near as practicable to the groups or tribes assigned to them, and ultimately has often been the most robust building still standing near there.


The relief operation has been divided up into different clusters, so there separate food and shelter clusters and this appears to have been done for both operational and needs purposes. Food has been the most urgent and also the aid that has been in the greatest supply initially. There appears to be logistical issues surrounding distribution of temporary shelter, and combined with a particular actual lack of supply, has hampered provision of shelter.


> Collation of Numbers of People for Central Area.

In the first week, monday 16th March Provincial Council requested all the villages to submit a provisional broad brush number count for each village, which were submitted back to Area secretary (Central Area) by Wednesday 18th March. Most of these village tallies were submitted on exercise paper (as no official forms had been provided). On the same day that they were submitted (wednesday 18th), the Area Secretary (central) informed all the villages that the numbers were not acceptable and then provided forms to be filled out indicating the total numbers of of men, women and children (over age of three) per family, per village. These were duly filled out and submitted during the period of the 23rd/24th March. However, it appeared that after this submission, within the Provincial Government, a mistake was made and the total tally for the Central Area had been assigned to Middlebush sub-area. On the same night, the area secretary came back to community with the mistakes on the collated forms (not the original village forms). Working through the night, all the representative tribes came to the meeting point at the L.D.S Church, and the correct numbers collated, and then submitted to the provincial Government on Thursday 19th March.

> Set up of Aid Distribution Points.

At the same time, on monday 16th March the L.D.S church was designated by the whole of Central region as the major relief and distribution centre. This was subsequently decentralised to the four present Distribution centres after Wednesday 18th March on a meeting of each local community ( sub-area of Central Area), a chairperson and secretary appointed for each area. These Distribution Points and their organizational makeup were approved by the Taefa Provincial Secretary by 23rd/24th March.

> Distribution Points in Central Tanna Area.

Central Tanna as been broken into four distribution points, and the nearby tribes along with their associated people have been allocated to each of these distribution points. On this basis the gross amount of each food item is to be dispersed to each distribution point. The four Distribution points for central with there associated tributes are :

• L.D.S. (LOWIERU) – located on Main Road to Central 200metres before the Junction.
• LENAKEN – On Central Cross Road, 1km up Junction road on right past Muslim Mosque.
• LAMMNATU – At French school, near playing fields on main road to White Sands (up from interior Lenakel).
• IMARU – At a Junction just before French school to right approx 2.5 km.

Therefore each Distribution Point, has an agreed gross amount of supplies assigned to it, and it is understood that there would be a one initial supply and two subsequent re-supplies. Once the gross amount of each specific cache of food has been delivered, it is to be signed off by the Chairman for that Distribution Point.

The Account of supply is recorded by each Distribution Point Secretary, and the Central Area Secretary.

> Aid Distribution to Central Region to the 23rd /24th March.

At no time up to 23rd / 24th March had any relief aid been provided or distributed to any part of the Central Area.


A Standard food ration was issued by the “Food Security and Agriculture Cluster”, initially for the shepherd Islands. This was subsequently issued as being the same for Tanna, by the Tafea Provincial Council, and provides for the following Food aid relief every fifteen(15) days for every man woman and child (3 years and older)

• Rice 5kg
• Tinned fish 1 x 425 g Tin
• Tinned meat 1 x 200 g Tin
• Small Packet Noodles 2 x 85g packets.


It has been directed that the aid supplies be distributed by village in the exact ratio as set down above. If villages miss out they are to be supplied next in line until all people in the area has been catered for in each fifteen day period.

As seen below, this cannot be carried out as the supplies of rice, tinned meat and fish and noodles all vary in what is held by the Distribution Point and therefore all will run out at points of distribution, providing a bureaucratic nightmare.


Erik and Esso Working out the Actual Numbers of People based on Official Documentation
Erik and Esso Working out the Actual Numbers of People based on Official Documentation

The L.D.S. (Lowieru) is the Distribtion Point for most of the the area known as Middlebush Area. Official spreadsheets on persons serviced by the Distribution Point, held by Erik Ialulu, Secetary for L.D.S. Distribution Centre, were reviewed and audited by Greg Watt, Esso Kapum and Erik Ialulu, to ascertain the exact entitlement for each person.

From this Audit,the numbers have been tallied, which should be the same number held by both the Provincial Government and the central headquarters of the “Food Security and Agriculture Cluster”. The number of people in the L.D.S.(Lowieru) area number in accordance with their tribal makeup as follows : –

•• Rakatne 840
•• Namasmitane 371
•• Kaoiapne 340
•• Pusaine 392
•• Tangaluane 378
•• Iamanane East 587
•• Iamanane West 247
•• Pusaitomin 168
•• Naihne 74

Total People 3,397

Further, each village within each tribal has bee accounted for as follows :

Lounalo village 86
Lantun village 108
Lanipen village 109
Lounahan village 128
Loukorafa village 122
Laoul village 287 ******
Total Rakatane Tribe 840 people

Lounuala village 129
Lenatuan village 99
Loukahmal village 143
Total Namasmitane Tribe 371 people

Lamak village 116
Lounamilo village 128
Latkakru village 96
Total Kaoiapne Tribe 340 people

Loukotapis village 92
Laumelu (Laumahu) village 106
Lownolus village 77
Lownalus village 117
Lowmalo village 77
Total Pusaine Tribe 392 people

Laonarai village 126
Unal village 150
Lelualu village 102
Total Tangaluane Tribe 378 people

Fetukai 506
Imaus 81
Total Iamanane East Tribe 587 people

Lapukas village 247
Total Iamanane West Tribe 247 people

Lanemita village 168
Total Pusaitomin Tribe 168 people

Lamapruan village 74
Total Naihne Tribe 74 people

( Note that it has been found that one village that has been assigned to another Distribution Point has been included here, and some duplication of numbers in one Tribe. The Agreed number of People as of evening 9th April is 2887 people)


Therefore the number of people catered for by the designated aid package system is 3,397 people. Based in this the amount of food that should have been allocated to this distribution point is

Rice = 3,397 x 5kg/25 kg = 679.40 25kg Bags

Tinned Fish = 3,397 x 435g tin = 3,337 Tinned Fish

Tinned Meat = 3,397 x 200g tin = 3,337 Tinned Meat

Noddles = 3,397 x 2 x 85g packets = 6,794 packets Noddles


Erik with Rice delivered to Distribution Point as at 9th April
Erik with Rice delivered to Distribution Point as at 9th April



• The first delivery of Food to the L.D.S. (Lowieru) distribution point was on thursday 2nd April consisting of 84 off 25kg Baga of Rice, and some small amount only of tinned food.

• An extra top up has been made yesterday on late afternoon the 8th April of subsequent supplies.

• As of today 9th of April almost 4 weeks after Cyclone Pam, there has not as yet been able to be a distribution of supplies, because of inadequate quantise to actually make a distribution possible.

• The present supplies at the Distribution Point are as follows :

RICE 110 bags of 27.5 kg + 137 bags of25 kg = 247 Bags of Rice

TINNED FISH = 54 x 24 (425g Tins) = 1,296 Tins 425g Fish
+ 19 x 24 (185g Tins) = 456 tins 185g Fish

TINNED MEAT = 3 x 48 (200g Tins) = 144 tins 200g Meat

NOODLES = 480 x 85g Packets + 200 packets of Rice Noodles

BISCUITS = 7100 packets of small WFP (World Food Program) biscuits

Tinned Fish at LDS Distribution Point, Central Tanna
Tinned Fish at LDS Distribution Point, Central Tanna



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.