Food shortage on Tanna Island after El Niño

Remote communities in Vanuatu hit hard by Cyclone Pam nine months ago are facing a new threat – drought caused by severe El Niño conditions.

The dry spell has led to a food shortage, but on Tanna Island, aid agencies are doing what they can to help.

In the isolated eastern part of the island, men clear the land and then prepare it for something that's in seriously short supply – leafy green vegetables.

Cyclone Pam claimed the crops and the problems have been compounded with the unseasonably dry conditions.

"We've had one of the strongest cyclones in the Pacific, one of the strongest El Niño seasons since 1997. On top of that, climate change is just making the climate much more unpredictable," says Tearfund programme officer Andrew Finlay.

Mr Finlay is working with local group Nasi Tuan to provide healthy supplies for hundreds of struggling families.

"So we are looking at up to 500 households, so it will probably be a little over 4000 people or so," he says.

A communal, irrigated garden will be crucial especially for those living in the North – an hour-long drive from the main market in the centre of town.

The other issue facing the most remote communities is that transport to get to the market is very expensive. It costs about NZ$13 to come down from the northern villages and go back up. That's the equivalent of a full day's work.

In the northern village of Imafan, children eat leaves from the manasis tree. This is considered an emergency food provision, commonly consumed in times of disaster.

The cyclone was months ago. It's the parched earth that is the latest threat. Even common staples like kasava are scare.

"They all have 10 family, 10 people in his family. So they will all have this kasava for the dinner," says Nasi Tuan managing director Jeffrey Lahva.

Resident Nulak Ben says he's concerned about his family's welfare.

"I'm particularly worried about the children. We are only eating one meal a day."

"There's pockets of communities that are going without food, reducing their meal intake, not getting a balanced diet and this is a way that we can see can help that," says Mr Finlay.

"It is really important we are aware and don't just treat the Pacific as a tourist destination. It's more than that, and there's more going on, and it's good to be aware of that and help where we can."

He says this type of help is especially important ahead of what could be another season of powerful storms.

If you would like to help struggling communities on Vanuatu's Tanna Island, you can donate to Tearfund's El Niño Famine Prevention Appeal by visiting or calling 0800 800 777.

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