The people of Fiji are beginning to count the cost of the severe floods which have laid waste to large swathes of both of the country’s main islands.
Eleven people have died; at least 8000 people are still huddled in emergency shelters; roads and bridges have been washed away; and water supplies, electricity and communications have been disrupted.
Radio New Zealand is reporting that 300 businesses are ruined, and that the damage in some areas has been particularly severe – in Nadi, for example, flood damage is estimated at $NZ200 million, and there have been calls to bulldoze the town and start again. There have also been calls to relocate some villages to higher ground.
Fiji’s interim government also says there is now an urgent need for clean drinking water to stave off disease.
That’s a snapshot of the national scene – and the picture coming into focus at the Diocese of Polynesia office in Suva shows that Anglicans, and Anglican Church property, have not been spared.
Archbishop Jabez Bryce has asked his staff to contact the two regional bishops and archdeacons, and the following information is gleaned from those preliminary reports:
Labassa, on the northern island of Vanua Levu, has been particularly hard hit. There is an element of déjà vu about this – because Labassa was also inundated by flooding in February 2006.
Within the parish of St Thomas, Labassa, reports are coming through of significant damage to the two Anglican schools in the town, to an Anglican girl’s hostel and to the church compound itself:
All Saint’s Secondary School, which is on the bank of the Qawa River (one of three rivers which run through Labassa) was flooded when the river burst its banks. Water entered the classrooms on the ground floor and two teachers’ quarters, and furniture has been damaged;
Meanwhile, water from the swollen Labasa River has flooded some classrooms at the nearby St Mary’s primary school;
The overflowing Labasa River has also swept into dining room and chapel at St Mary’s hostel;
Within the St Thomas’ church compound itself, 60cm deep water has flooded the church and lifted floor tiles. Floodwaters have also invaded two church houses and damaged household goods.
Naiavia is a village on the opposite eastern side of Vanua Levu, and it is home to a ‘Solomoni’ community descended from Solomon Islanders ‘blackbirded’ from their homes in the nineteenth century to work as virtual slaves on Fiji’s sugar and copra plantations.
Archbishop Jabez says the floods appear to have taken a heavy toll on the poor, many of whom have been living in shacks which have been swept away by the floodwaters. In general terms, Solomoni communities are at the bottom of the Fijian heap, and have been a focus for Diocese of Polynesia mission work. At Naviavia, there are reports that:
The church hall has been water-damaged;
Several houses have also been damaged; and
Food gardens for the village have been completely destroyed by water. Communities such as Naviavia depend on subsistence farming.
Savusavu (population: 5000) is the main town on the eastern side of Vanua Levu. The vicar of St Leonard’s, Savusavu, reports that:
The parish church hall has been flooded;
The food gardens for the nearby settlements of Kasavu and Vucivuci have been destroyed.
On Viti Levu, Fiji’s most heavily populated island, the flood damage has been most severe in the western district.
Nadi (a sprawling area of towns and villages with a combined population of 42,000) is the site of Fiji’s international airport, and is the hub of the main tourist area of Fiji. Thousands of tourists have had their holidays disrupted by the flooding, which has been particularly severe here, and there are fears that the ongoing impacts on Fiji tourism – on which the country depends heavily – will be considerable. Nadi is a centre for Hinduism and Islam in Fiji, and reports emerging from the district’s Anglican church, at St Christopher’s, Nadi, say that:
Four families in the HART settlement (an ecumenical church settlement for the poorest of the poor) have had their homes submerged, and their household goods have been damaged. They are staying at an evacuation centre.
Sigatoka, a town of about 8000 people at the mouth of the Sigatoka River, is about 70km north of Nadi, the main entry point to Fiji. The Vicar of Sigatoka’s Church of the Good Shepherd reports:
Metre-deep water has flooded the church;
The Vicarage has also been badly flooded. When Sereima Lomaloma, the Diocesan Secretary, phoned the vicar, he conducted his end of the conversation from the top of his dining table. He’d managed to save the fridge – but even goods placed on his bed had been submerged;
At nearby Yalava, four parishioners’ homes beside the sugarcane farms were under water;
And the settlement of Nadrala – up the Sigatoka Valley – has been entirely cut off because the road has been submerged.
Ba, which is about 40km from Fiji’s second city, Lautoka, is a town of about 15,000. At the Church of the Holy Spirit, Ba reports have emerged of:
Nine church families had their homes and crops damaged by flood water.
Archbishop Jabez Bryce (who is one of the three primates of the church in this province, as well as Bishop of the Diocese of Polynesia) cautions that the above picture is a preliminary one, and he’s asked for a more comprehensive report to be made available within two weeks.
Archbishop Jabez is also aware that numbers of Anglicans from outside Fiji – including those who, last December, travelled to Suva for the diocese’s 100th anniversary celebrations – want to extend a helping hand to Anglicans who are, for New Zealanders, their provincial tikanga partners.
However, he has given a gentle encouragement to these folk to channel any donations they may be considering (at this stage, he says, money is the most useful gift) through the diocesan office, rather than direct to parishes or individuals.
“We are not wanting to control people’s generosity,” he says, “but it’s best if the relief is co-ordinated through the Anglican Missions Board while the diocesan office assesses where the needs are greatest.”
It’s likely that the first aid that the diocese will distribute will come from the overflow from those centenary celebrations. Knowing that visitors to Fiji might struggle in December’s tropical heat – which can be quite fierce – the Diocese stocked up on bottled water.
There were 15 cartons of bottled water left over from those celebrations.
There’ll be no shortage of grateful takers for those surplus cartons of bottled water now.
And there’s an opportunity, too, for donors outside of Fiji to ensure that those supplies continue.
To make a donation please send it to:
Please make cheques payable to Anglican Missions Board
Report courtesy of Lloyd Ashton, Media Officer for the Anglican Church, New Zealand.