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After Fiji floods, thousands at risk of disease

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 20, 2009 04:55 PM

Published: 2009-01-20 16:55:10
Countries: Fiji

9,000 are in shelters, dozens have already fallen ill.

As reported in the Associated Press, Friday 16 January 2009.

Fiji's worst flooding in a generation has put tens of thousands of people at risk of respiratory illnesses, malaria and dengue fever, authorities warned Friday (16 January), after heavy rains killed 11 and left thousands homeless.

Hundreds of homes and businesses in towns and villages on the main island of Viti Levu have been inundated in waist-deep water from overflowing rivers and streams. Clean drinking water is scarce in some places, and stagnant water increases the risk of exposure to mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

More than 9,000 people are in evacuation centers — many without food, clean water, clothes or other possessions — after a week of torrential storms triggered the worst flooding in 40 years.

Bebi Electronics, Ltd., a local business based in Savusavu told noonsite, "Some academics are debating if this is the worst flooding since 1931. All rather ironic, as it wasn't even a tropical depression going over. On Monday (12 January), Bua reported receiving 100mm/hr for three hours of rain. You could sail a moderate draft boat up the back road to Nadi though, it was flooded to 2.5 meters".

Foreign Affairs Secretary Ratu Isoa Gavidi said there is "a desperate need" for clean drinking water, water tanks and water purification tablets, as well as clothing, blankets, bedding and tents. "There are some areas that have no water supplies at all. It could be roughly two to three weeks they will be without water," he told New Zealand's National Radio.

Sugar cane farmers say the storms have wrecked tens of millions of dollars of crops in an industry that provides incomes for one in four workers in the island nation. Merchants in Nadi estimated $110 million in damage.

Fiji Chamber of Commerce president, Swani Maharaj, said businesses in Nadi will take six months to a year to recover from the floods, "but I'm sure a lot of the smaller ones will probably never (re)open."

Later Friday, Australia and New Zealand gave a combined $2.3 million to fund flood relief work in Fiji, adding to the $150,000 of initial funding they announced Wednesday. The U.S., China, Japan, Tonga and UNICEF have also pledged emergency funding.

The good news for visiting yachts was that even the "strong winds", by sailing terms, weren't that bad (35 knots sustained with gusts of 50 knots). There was very minor damage to yachting facilities, all of which will be easily repaired.