Church network critical to Vanuatu response

19 Mar 2015   |   Media release   |   Vanuatu   |   Emergency Relief

Destruction from Cyclone Pam

Caritas Oceania agencies, including Caritas Australia and Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, part of one of the largest humanitarian networks in the world, are helping to lead a joint response in Vanuatu with the Catholic Church. The Diocese of Port Vila has established a Disaster Response Committee to assess damage and plan a coordinated response. Shelter is a major priority and a number of churches are being used as evacuation centres.

Cyclone Pam veered west of its predicted path putting many islands near the cyclone’s destructive centre. Up to 90 percent of buildings on one of Vanuatu’s main islands have been destroyed or damaged.

Caritas Australia’s Pacific Programs Manager, Stephanie Lalor is on the ground to help coordinate humanitarian relief efforts, along with Mark Mitchell, Humanitarian Programs Coordinator for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand. Ms Lalor said shelter is an immediate priority, as well as food and water.

“On arrival to Vanuatu, it was certainly an eerie feeling as we flew in – coming into a capital city without much lighting it was quite clear that a lot of the town in particular has been severely affected,” Ms Lalor said.

“I awoke in the morning and saw the devastation around me. I’m actually living with one of the members of our partner organisation the Diocese of Port Vila and she’s in an area that’s been really severely impacted and has been personally affected with half of the roof blown off her house.”

Ms Lalor said the disaster was unprecedented for Vanuatu and that the Church plays a key role in reaching out to the most vulnerable communities, particularly those on the margins in the outlying islands.

“Caritas Australia has a long running partnership with the Diocese of Port Vila and has been supporting programs over a number of years, including programs that reduce risks to disasters,” Ms Lalor said. “When we met with the Bishop of Port Vila he reiterated that the church should not forget anyone and get the aid to those who need it most.”

“In Port Vila the destruction is everywhere, and there’s no news from anyone around the islands yet,” says the Bishop of Port Vila, John Bosco Baremes SM from the devastated capital. “There’s just no shelter, with so much having been blown away, and people will need somewhere to shelter while they rebuild.”

Caritas Australia has had a very generous public response to the Pacific emergency. Ms Lalor says, “We are very thankful for the outpouring of concern, generosity and solidarity for our Pacific neighbours in this time of need.”

“After responding to the immediate needs following the cyclone, we are committed to accompanying Vanuatu and other Pacific nations that remain so vulnerable throughout the cyclone season. We are encouraging our supporters to raise funds for our current Project Compassion Lenten appeal which helps vulnerable Pacific communities, such as Vanuatu, build back stronger and prepare for future disasters,” said Ms Lalor.

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For more information or on the ground interviews with Stephanie Lalor please contact Caritas Australia media advisor Nicole Clements on 0408 869 833 or

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