Canada’s Response to Tropical Cyclone Winston

Young children take part in art therapy during a counselling session.

A scene of utter devastation on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.

Locals begin to clear roads using chainsaws donated by the Canada Fund.

Relief items ready for distribution in the community of Barotu.

A banana boat loaded with supplies for remote communities.

“In my entire life I have not encountered a cyclone as strong as this”

On 20 February 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the South Pacific. With wind gusts of up to 325 km/h and waves up to 12 metres high, Cyclone Winston flattened entire villages, cut communication across vast parts of the country and damaged hundreds of dwellings and schools. Throughout Fiji, more than 30,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, forcing tens of thousands into evacuation centres. Cyclone Winston claimed 44 lives and affected an estimated 350,000 people – 40 per cent of Fiji’s total population.

Canada’s response

In the days following the cyclone, Canada announced an immediate contribution of $250,000 to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Fiji Appeal through the Emergency Disaster Assistance Fund. This was followed by an additional $750,000 to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), bringing Canada’s total humanitarian funding in response to Cyclone Winston to $1 million. Canada’s contribution is helping UNICEF respond to the most urgent needs facing the people of Fiji, namely shelter, food security, health care and improving access to protection services, including psychosocial support for children.

Canada Fund for Local Initiatives humanitarian reserve

In March 2016, the High Commission partnered with the Social Empowerment and Education Programme (SEEP), a Fijian NGO, to provide essential food and sanitation items to 470 households across twenty of the country’s worst affected communities, many of whom had not yet received government assistance. This support was provided through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) humanitarian reserve.

Working alongside volunteers and youth workers, SEEP personnel delivered cooking essentials, hygiene packs and building materials to those families most in need. They assisted communities with clean-up efforts and delivered trauma counselling to those individuals most severely affected. Village leaders were highly appreciative of the volunteers’ work in providing their communities with a much needed morale boost. The provision of living essentials and support services ensured that immediate food and hygiene needs were met and provided the impetus for communities to kick-start the lengthy rebuild process.

According to current climate change modelling, extreme weather events are likely to occur in the South Pacific with greater frequency and intensity. Canada stands ready to continue supporting humanitarian assistance projects in the region and to help efforts to build more resilient communities.