A destroyed home south of Rakiraki, after Cyclone Winston hit Fiji and caused loss of lives and extensive damage. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Foreign Minister Murray McCully says the aerial view of the aftermath of Cyclone Winston in Fiji was like “an endless sea of aeroplane crashes.”
Mr McCully visited Fiji yesterday and said the situation was “grim” and reconstruction would take a long time.
“You’re talking roofs taken off houses completely, some places where there is just a platform left on a house. So it was like flying over an endless sea of aeroplane crashes where you’ve got a centre where a house used to be and then a trail of debris around it. The landscape is like that for kilometres and that wasn’t even the worst part of Fiji.”
Parliamentarians spoke about the disaster in Parliament today during a motion on Tropical Cyclone Winston. Prime Minister John Key said by the end of this week there will be 400 personnel in Fiji helping out and the Defence Force was making daily drops of supplies and disaster specialists, such as medical staff. “New Zealand
’s response to Cyclone Winston is shaping up to be our largest humanitarian response in the Pacific.”
He said the cyclone resulted in significant loss of life, property and crops and it had impacted on about 40 per cent of Fiji’s population. “In some places the devastation is complete.” He said more than 160 tons of emergency goods had been sent over, from shelter kits and water to food and blankets.
Mr McCully announced today that the Government was putting in a further $1.5 million in aid – much of it for use to get Suva’s electricity grid working well again and for supplies for reconstruction. It takes the total New Zealand has given to $4.7 million.
Mr McCully said New Zealand was likely to provide further support but was leaving it to Fiji to say what it needed. “This is not a small Pacific country, it’s a rather larger Pacific country. They’ve got capacities of their own so we need to work out what areas they want support in and what areas they feel they can look after their own needs as well.” He said it would inevitably have an economic impact on Fiji and outside help would be needed.
“But we need to respect the decision making process that operates in Fiji.” He praised the Fijian authorities’ handling since Cyclone Winston saying it was managing the response well.
New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji has been strained since the 2006 coup and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has continued to be critical of New Zealand and Australia since democratic elections in 2014, including adopting a ‘Look North’ policy and building links with China and Russia. However, relations were on the improve with Prime Minister John Key promising to visit in the near future.
Mr McCully said both countries had always worked closely in responding to natural disasters in the region. “We are going to have disagreements from time to time but when there’s an urgent need for humanitarian support everybody in this region understands you just knuckle down and deal with those needs. It comes naturally, we live in the same neighbourhood.”
Labour leader Andrew Little acknowledged the contribution of the Government as well as New Zealanders and the Fijian community in New Zealand for donations. “It is reassuring at least from a New Zealanders’ point of view to see the role and contribution New Zealand personnel are making in making assessments and helping with the recovery.” He said 50,000 people were still in shelters and it was right New Zealand did whatever was required to help through the long recovery ahead.