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Solomons tsunami survivors short of water - Red Cross

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 13 Feb 2013 17:17 GMT
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p>LONDON (AlertNet) - Supplies of clean water have become increasingly scarce in the remote part of the Solomon Islands hit by a tsunami a week ago, which killed 10 people and destroyed nearly 600 homes.

On Feb. 6, a powerful 8.0 magnitude earthquake set off a tsunami measuring around 0.9 metres (three feet) that hit land near the town of Lata on Santa Cruz island, swamping some villages and the town's main airport as residents fled to higher ground.

A joint assessment by the government and aid agencies found that more than 3,300 people were affected, and nearly 2,500 people are now sheltering in 13 camps.

The government has declared the area a disaster zone and called for external help - which is being offered by Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the Taiwanese authorities.

The Solomon Islands Red Cross Society (SIRC) says the most acute problem is getting an adequate water supply, because water for drinking, cooking and washing has become "profoundly scarce". Water tanks, sources and pipes were destroyed or damaged by the tsunami and wells are contaminated and unusable, it said in an update earlier this week.

The provincial government is working to repair the main water source for Lata and Graciosa Bay. The Red Cross has installed a water purification system that can provide 5,000 litres of water every 2.5 hours, and another is on the way. Aid agencies, including Oxfam, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children and World Vision have sent buckets, collapsible water containers, soap and water purification tablets.

"The tsunami travelled over half a kilometre inland, damaging traditional houses and leaving thousands of displaced families without access to water or a proper roof over their heads," Britain's Minister of State for International Development Alan Duncan said in a statement last week. The South Pacific country - which has a population of around 585,000 - was a British protectorate until 1978, when it gained full independence.

Relief efforts have been hampered by more than 130 aftershocks, at least nine of them larger than 6.0 magnitude and two above 7.0 magnitude. In addition, Lata's wharf was damaged by the initial disaster and the tremors that followed, meaning that aid delivered by ship must be offloaded by hand.

The SIRC says the destruction of vegetable gardens, fruit trees, livestock and poultry will affect local food supplies, threatening food security in the coming months and even years. Trees that produce breadfuit - a staple food - are already withering because of exposure to salty seawater, it said.

"It will take 15-plus years for new trees to be able to sustain the food needs of the people," the Red Cross said. "It is inevitable that, in the medium to long term, food supply to these communities must be sustained from external sources."

Many of those worst hit by the disaster have lost all their possessions and will struggle to rebuild their lives, the agency added.

The Solomon Islands is classed as one of the world's 49 least developed countries, with gross domestic product of only $3,400 per capita in 2012. It was riven by violence between ethnic militias from 1998 to 2003, and hit by post-election riots in 2006. Palm oil production and and gold mining are regarded as the main hopes for expanding its economy.   


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