Category Five Tropical Cyclone Lola in Vanuatu has claimed at least two lives and caused widespread, severe damage to hundreds of homes, schools and food gardens in a country still reeling from the category four twin cyclones that devastated the country in March 2023.
Save the Children’s response to the devastation will include delivering shelter and hygiene kits to displaced people and setting up Child Friendly Spaces in evacuation centres. With at least 100 schools impacted, including 70 that have either been entirely destroyed or are in need of major repairs, Save the Children is also setting up temporary learning spaces, including for older students who are due to sit final exams in the coming weeks.
The most heavily impacted areas include Pentecost, Malekula and Ambrym, where it is estimated that 50% of all homes have been damaged. An estimated 50,000- 80,000 people have been significantly impacted, including 25,000 to 40,000 children. Two women, including a pregnant woman, have been reported killed in Ambrym.
TC Lola, the earliest Category Five cyclone on record in the southern hemisphere and only the seventh pre-season South Pacific cyclone since 1970, made landfall in the evening of 24 October with wind speeds of up to 215kph.
It follows back-to-back category 4 cyclones, which hit in March, impacted more than 80% of Vanuatu’s population of about 320,000 people, caused widespread destruction of homes, buildings, and food gardens and disrupted water, power, and telecommunication services.
November 1 marks the official beginning of cyclone season in the Pacific and it is expected to be a dangerous one, with up to 14 cyclones predicted to hit the region between November and April, according to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. Vanuatu, Fiji and the Northern Cook Islands are expected to be worst affected.
Climate induced disasters disproportionately impact children and young people, particularly as a result of disruption to education and psychosocial trauma associated with ongoing experiences of intensifying disasters.
“We have experienced three terrifying cyclones this year, and it is not even November yet,” said Chloe, a 14-year-old from Vanuatu.
“For young people, especially those who have not already experienced cyclones, it can be very scary. You know a cyclone is coming and so you just have to sit there and wait for it. Seeing it come closer and closer can be a terrifying experience but it’s just how life is here, and we can’t escape that.
“One of the hardest things is not being able to contact your family and friends and so you don’t know if they are okay or what the damage has been elsewhere in the country. After the last cyclones, so much was destroyed and the trees lost all their leaves, just bare branches hanging in the grey sky.”
Save the Children Vanuatu Country Director Polly Banks said the damage from TC Lola has been extremely severe, leaving children even more fearful of what this cyclone season will bring.
“It is terribly sad that just eight months on from the devastating twin cyclones in March, Vanuatu has now experienced another major cyclone, which has sadly claimed the lives of two people, including a pregnant woman, and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and schools,” she said.
“Children in Vanuatu are now spending half the year wondering when the next big cyclone will hit and whether their homes or schools will be destroyed, or lives put at risk.
“This latest cyclone hit before the cyclone season even officially began and follows a devastating end to the last season. Ni-Vanuatu children are extremely resilient but there is just not enough time between all of these cyclones for children and their families to recover.
“Vanuatu is leading the way in many respects, both through preparing for future climate impacts and taking the issue of climate action to the global stage, but Ni-Vanuatu children face among the greatest exposure to repeated climate disasters of any children around the world and so they need all the support they can get.
“We need to see real commitments from the international community to support Vanuatu and many other climate-vulnerable states around the world, including at COP28 next month.”
Vanuatu is already one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, and as the climate crisis worsens, scientists say tropical cyclones will become more extreme.
Chloe, 14, said she is proud of the work Vanuatu is doing to tackle the climate crisis but said the country cannot do it alone, calling on the international community to step up assistance. “At the end of the day, we are not going to make a significant impact on helping to reduce emissions because we have a minuscule carbon footprint compared to some countries… Our contributions won’t change much all by itself,” she said.
Save the Children has a long history of responding to emergencies in the Pacific and Vanuatu, ensuring we work alongside the Government of Vanuatu in the coordination of the response.