After cyclone Evan hit the South Pacific islands late last year, Fijian towns were severely battered and many people were left homeless. Months later, the devastation is still widespread. Julia Thiemann reports.
Bahel goes to beautiful Sawemi Beach everyday. Surrounded by beautiful turquoise water and stretches of white sand, he collects rubbish: glass, cans, bottles – everything that he can find. And there is plenty. Local people and tourist alike leave their garbage behind and the rest is washed ashore.
It saddens Bahel that the beautiful beach, which is surrounded by coconut palms and bushland, is so polluted. Throwing away pieces of broken glass, he says: “The people don’t care. They just leave everything behind.”
But, the rubbish is not the worst thing he worries about. In fact, it helps him to survive. “I collect the rubbish and bring it to the town to get money.”
One Fijian dollar (approximately $0,75 AUD) is what he gets for a one kilogram of soft drink cans.
This is his only income at the moment, his only chance of survival. When cyclone Evan hit Fiji last December, Bahel lost everything. His home was destroyed by the storm. “It’s very hard times right now, very hard,” he says repeatedly, often glancing at the place where his house once stood. For the moment, he can stay with a friend. “But not for a long time,” Bahel adds.
Before Cyclone Evan, Bahel used to be a farmer. “I grew many fruits and vegetables. Coconuts, bananas, sugar cane, lettuce, tomatoes. Now everything is gone.” The storm has destroyed the whole crop.
His situation seems hopeless since a new start is impossible: “I don’t have money to buy new seeds,” he says with his eyes getting watery.
Joanne Foster, who was holidaying in Fiji in December when Evan came, reported to the Herald Sun: “There’s a lot of vegetation strewn around and some palm trees have snapped in half,” she said.
“There’s a lot of damage and a lot of work to be done. But it’s not as bad here in the resorts with the concrete buildings as it would be in the villages.”
In fact, like Bahel, many Fijians live in Bures, traditional palm huts, or in light sheet cottages, which couldn’t hold out against the power of the storm. Janet Mason reported to Radio New Zealand that she saw an empty house flying through the air and landing beside hers. That could have been Bahel’s home.
When Evan left, 3,000 people had to move to evacuation shelters. The damage caused to agriculture was estimated to be around US$ 30 million.
Evan was the strongest cyclone to threaten Fiji in 20 years, with gusts up to 270 km/h.
The Fijian government is overburdened to take care of the aftermath of Evan and requested international help. But Bahel, like many others, hasn’t received any financial support, yet. “I reported to the Council and I had to fill in a form. But I have heard nothing back.”