Cyclone victims claim: Aid reached us three weeks late and it’s rotten

It has taken three weeks for aid to reach the victims of Cyclone Ian in Ha’apai and some of the food reaching the devastated islands is rotten.

Those were the claims being made yesterday by angry residents who claimed they were being sent rancid tinned food and rotting  vegetables.

The government has admitted it held onto relief supplies for three weeks because by then  food crops remaining on plantations would be used up or scarce.

However, a government spokesman said they were just being prudent and trying to make sure there was enough food for everybody.

The victims’ families have been going on-line with their complaints, claiming that relatives have suffered from diarrhoea after eating bad food and posting pictures of what they allege are damaged tins of food.

One post shows a tin that appears to have been punctured, with food leaking out through the hole. The expiry date on the tin is June 29, 2014.

There have also been complaints that while donations of plantains and green bananas were left to ripen, other food had gone rotten before it was distributed.

Conditions in Ha’apai have been likened to the starvation and homelessness suffered after disasters in Africa.

Big families are living in tents and in shelters made of roofing iron and timber.

The distribution of tents and tarpaulins has still not reached everybody.

Many people claim they have had no food aid at all after the cyclone and describe the government distribution schedule as appalling.

They have blasted the Government media for  whitewashing the conditions the Ha’apai people are facing.

Deplorable

Ha’apai- Immigrant New Zealand resident Peseti Latu said living conditions in Ha’apai were deplorable.

He and his Facebook Group, Vete’anga Palopalema, sent NZ$2500 worth of food, including flour, rice, sugar and noodles to Tonga for the cyclone victims on January 20.

Latu, who recently returned from Ha’apai, where he attended his grandfather’s funeral,  said:  “Some people have only their clothes they wore on the day the cyclone struck because everything in their house was blown off. 

“After the cyclone some have to retrieve clothing from the bush and some never able to recover anything.”

Latu said conditions were hard for people living in tents. It was too hot to stay inside tents during the day, but when people moved outside there was no shelter from the sun because the cyclone blew down so many trees.

Latu said  it was unfortunate that the local media just reported government information and did not describe the situation in Ha’apai,

“While I was there the only sign the government did something to help was when some soldiers arrived to clear up the mess,” he said.

“When you look on Youtube at places in Africa where people are dying from hunger and war it is just like Ha’apai when I was there.

“One of the most disappointing stories I heard from the people of Ha’apai was that there was no clear answers from the government about why they held the relief aid donated by churches and non-government organisation.”

Other Tongans have also taken to Facebook to complain.

Halaunga Fietonu wrote:  “One thing I want to say about the distribution was that the kainga (relatives and families of families) found tins of fish had leaked and gone rancid.”

 “I ask the government to please bring Ocean Queen tinned fish. Those are the ones we eat,  even though they are expensive at TP$4.50. I think if these tinned fish were distributed to the chiefs they would not eat them. They are tasteless and already been leaked and smell in the box,” she said.

Leata Muarea HoeftLangi wrote: “My dad just called and asked me to buy him food. He had a stomach ache after eating corned beef they received from the government. They found the meat looked weirdly rotten and smelled and some had leaked. We have sent him Pacific corned beef.”  

Mixed feelings

Kaniva News talked to a number of  people in Ha’apai over the phone yesterday. They had mixed feelings about the timing and how the distribution was conducted.

“I question why it has been so slow. It just arrived here yesterday,” a woman in Ha’ato’u said.

“I saw food said to be a donation from Vava’u rotten and ripen in a tent at the governor’s office in Pangai,” another woman said.

However, another woman told Kaniva News she was satisfied with the distribution.

“My family has seven members. We were given 21 tins of fish, 21tins of corned beef, 21 one kg bags of rice, noodles, crackers and a one kg bag of sugar,” she said.

“That would last us probably three weeks because I and my husband are both working, but for a family with no one working that would only enough for a week.”

Did its best

The Ha’apai governor’s secretary, Kepu ‘Ione, said the government did its best to make sure the food relief reached people through the national emergency organisation, NEMO.

“I do not know of any food that went rotten,” Ione said.

“That was not true. There were some green bananas that ripened, but were all distributed together with the rest of the foods to the disabled and the elderly.”

Asked why they were so slow to deliver tents and tarpaulins and make sure every home had one, ‘Ioane said people would always need more.

“I would not deny it if people complained, but NEMO has done the distribution of the tents and tarpaulins as well as Red Cross,” ‘Ioane said.

“There was advice from the Ministry of Agriculture to hold the distribution of food relief to just start last week, so that people could use whatever foods they still had in their homes and in the plantation.”

“It just for prudence, to make sure we still have enough provision of food in place for the people.”

Tongan military commander Satisi Vunipola, who is in charge of transporting relief shipments  from Tonga to Ha’apai and within the Ha’apai islands, said they had not received any complaints about bad food.

“We have not heard of any report regarding that,” Vunipola said.

The health officer-in-charge at Niu’ui Hospital in Ha’apai, Dr TevitaVakasiuola, said they had not received any patients with sickness caused by bad food from the aid reliefs. 

Asked whether the government had health security measures in place to make sure food was safe, both Vunipola and Vakasiuola said that was done in Tongatapu by health officers and NEMO before the food was shipped to Ha’apai.

The main points

  • It has taken three weeks for aid to reach the victims of Cyclone Ian in Ha’apai and some cyclone victims and their families claim some of the food is rotten.
  • The victims’ families have been going on-line with their complaints, claiming that relatives have suffered from diarrhoea after eating bad food and posting pictures of what they allege are damaged tins of food.
  • There have also been claims that tents and tarpaulins are not reaching everybody.
  • Conditions in the cyclone affected islands have been described as deplorable.
  • The government has admitted it held onto relief supplies for three weeks because by then  food crops remaining on plantations would be used up or scarce.
  • A government spokesman said they were being prudent and trying to make sure there was enough food for everybody.
  • Military and medical authorities told Kaniva News they had had no complaints about bad food.

An image uploaded to Facebook by Lesieli Sokai saying these are the rancid tinned fishes received from government's distribution

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