The aid agency CARE is warning that a Category 5 cyclone heading towards Fiji could be catastrophic for the island nation already grappling with the loss of tourism income.
Cyclone Yasa is currently north-west of the island nation and is predicted to make landfall late on Thursday. CARE is supporting its partner, Live and Learn Fiji, to spread information about cyclone preparedness in 15 communities.
Yasa is the first severe tropical cyclone of the season but the second to strike during the COVID-19 pandemic, after Cyclone Harold tore through the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga in April.
It is the 16th Category 5 cyclone in the South Pacific since 2000 — an almost fourfold increase on the 20 years prior, when there were only four such cyclones.
CARE spokesperson Stefan Knollmayer said: “The predicted path, speed and strength looks like the worst case scenario as it cuts across the centre of Fiji, hitting both the mainland and islands groups to the east and west.
“Although Fiji has managed to avoid significant outbreaks of COVID-19, this year has already been economically and socially devastating given tourism employs so many people, especially women. A cyclone like this could be a double disaster for Fiji.
In July, Fiji’s Prime Minister said one third of the country’s workforce had lost their jobs or had their hours cut as a result of the pandemic.
A CARE survey from May found that some people had resorted to eating less and bartering their assets. Domestic violence often spikes in times of financial stress, and the National Domestic Violence helpline has reported a significant increase in calls.
Stefan Knollmayer said: “Fiji’s government and NGOs — including CARE’s partner Live and Learn Fiji — are very experienced in preparing people for cyclones and helping them recover.
“Live and Learn Fiji has has been helping people prepare their houses, plant resilient crops and understand how to stop the spread of disease after a disaster.
“Pacific nations are facing more and more severe climate-related threats. Australia and other high-polluting countries have a moral obligation to support our neighbours as they deal with the triple threat of a global pandemic, an economic slowdown and climate change.”
For interviews, contact:
Iona Salter on +614 13 185 634 (Australia)
Doris Susau on +679 9927 059 (Fiji)