Thursday, 19 March 2015

No enchanted evening

Nguồn tin:

TROPICAL cyclones are frequent in the south-west Pacific between November and April, with an average of ten a year. They are born near the equator and scythe southward. Rivers burst their banks and crops are destroyed, but the loss of life is usually small. People stock up on tinned food and bottled water. Householders who own a fridge stuff newspaper around their food as insulation for when the electricity blacks out.

But Cyclone Pam, which ripped through the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu on the night of March 13th, was quite out of the ordinary. With sustained winds of 145 knots (268km per hour), it was the worst storm to hit the South Pacific since at least Cyclone Zoe in 2002. It brushed the east coast of Efate, the island on which the capital, Port Vila, sits. Eleven people were reported to have died, but the number is likely to rise.

Vanuatu has a population of around 267,000, spread across 65 islands. The more remote southern islands of Erromango, Tanna and Aneityum took direct hits from Cyclone Pam. Tanna, home to around 28,000 people, bore the brunt. Most of the islanders are subsistence farmers, many living in traditional thatched houses which were flattened. Reports from the stricken outer islands will take weeks to arrive.

These days Pacific islanders usually get early notice of approaching big storms. Meteorological agencies have improved their warning systems over the past decade and are better linked to local radio stations. On remoter islands, the threatening signs of an approaching hurricane tend to be obvious: a high swell and darkening skies. In 2002, when Cyclone Zoe hit the Solomon Islands’ Tikopia, just west of Vanuatu, coastal villages were washed away and many islanders were feared dead. But the inhabitants had moved inland to shelter in caves, a traditional defence.

Vanuatu’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale, was attending a UN conference on disaster risk in Japan when his country was devastated. Responding to his plea for “a helping hand in this disaster”, Australia, New Zealand and France sent flights to survey the damage and provide relief. Britain promised £2m ($3m). The immediate threat is that contaminated water may spread infectious diseases and diarrhoea. Food prices may rise as a result of crop damage. Reconstruction will take years.

In 2006 Vanuatu briefly made the headlines for coming top of the world’s “Happy Planet Index”, an alternative to GDP that combines estimates of well-being with a country’s ecological footprint. Account would now need to be taken of the huge damage left by the catastrophe of Cyclone Pam.

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