Water is like a thief for Solomon Islanders

I recently joined one of World Vision’s assessment teams as they went to evacuation centres following the devastation caused by flooding in the Solomon Islands. Walking up to the evacuation centre at Mbokonavera School in central Honiara, the smell of sewage was unmistakable. Around 500 people fled their homes to this evacuation centre following days of heavy rain in early April which caused flash flooding and landslides. Many peoples’ homes were awash with heavy, sticky mud.

More than 12,000 people have been affected, thousands of people have been left homeless, and many more cannot return to their homes due to structural damage and risk of further landslides. The Government of Solomon Islands declared a State of Emergency for Honiara and parts of Guadalcanal. The mood in the evacuation centres is bleak and pain can be seen in people’s eyes. Many people have lost everything; their homes, their livelihoods, their loved ones.

The stories I heard were heart breaking. One of a mother and baby being swept out to sea by the sudden flash flood, another of a man who was injured as he jumped into the water to save his young son. Children witnessed people being washed down the river. Rebecca Unga, a young mother from Koa Hill said the water washed away everything in its path. “The flood, the water it is like a thief - it has stolen everything,” she said.

While a few children were seen playing around the school and nearby creek, parents were trying to carry on as best they could with what little they had. Many seemed unaware of the risk the water posed, not only from further flash flooding but the health risks of waterborne diseases. In a country where only a third of the population has improved sanitation facilities, the risk of diseases like diarrhoea is high at the best of times however following a disaster the risks significantly increase.

World Vision is working with the Government of Solomon Islands’ emergency response group, the National Disaster Management Office to assist affected communities. Getting clean water to children and their families in the evacuation centres is one of the organisation’s roles in this response.

Strategies are being developed to overcome distribution challenges as many bridges are unpassable or washed away. Restoring essential services is also a top priority, especially water which has been cut off for days.

World Vision is distributing relief items such as blankets, mosquito nets, tarpaulins, hygiene kits, cooking sets and water containers to approximately 3,000 people in the coming days. The organisation is also setting up Child Friendly Spaces, providing safe places for children to play and recover from the effects of the disaster.