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Monday, 14 April 2014 18:11

Healing from the floods in Solomon Islands

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The Solomon Islands, now in a state of emergency, seem to be moving from one disaster to the next. On the 3rd of April, a second cyclone wrought significant damage to the already battered capital of Honiara. Salesian Father Ambrose Pereira sdb sends updates on his community's efforts to respond to the humanitarian need and makes an appeal for our help. A podcast from the Lowy Institute on the disaster is also offered below.

On April 3, a second cyclone in Solomon Islands wrought significant damage to the already battered capital of Honiara and the island of Guadaicanal. The Matanikau River burst its banks sweeping away houses, roads and bridges. At least 17 people have died in the floods and tens of thousands are homeless. This island nation is now in a state of emergency and on 14 April, Monday, was once more terrified by a 6.1 earthquake 90 km south of Kira-Kira.

Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb has been sending updates on Salesian ministries efforts in responding to the great need in the region. Since the 8th of April, the Don Bosco Technical Institute, Gymnasium in Henderson has sheltered 240 displaced people. He writes and reflects on the series of catastrophes on the islands:

Kerry Dee sharing out the sweets6th April, 2014 Honiara: Heavy rain and floods have left over 16 dead and tens of thousands homeless. The Solomon Islands government declared a state of emergency last week after the Matanikau River burst its banks, sweeping away people, houses and bringing down bridges.

The floodwaters have receded, but the country is yet to come to terms with the full extent of the damage. While rain lashed the country, major damage is seen in the China town area of Honiara and in the North Eastern part of Guadalcanal.

A very sad and depressing atmosphere looms all around us - as we Fr Srimal Priyanga and myself walked on the bank of the Matanikau River around China town area. It was very different from our trip to Tetere when Fr. Dominic Kachira and myself joined our confreres at the Eucharist in the morning.

The Matanikau metal and wooded bridge is completely destroyed. The concrete bridge, the lifeline that links Henderson with Honiara has been severely damaged. A single line of only light vehicles is permitted on the bridge at any time. With people displaced, infrastructure down and limited food supply - the weeks and months ahead will be difficult.

The Solomon Islands seems to be moving from one disaster to the next - be they natural or manmade. Hardly have they risen when something else brings them down. Thus, while there is progress, it is slow and one has to have the patience to encourage it to happen.

8 April 2014: Don Bosco Technical Institute Henderson commenced Term 2, with 80% of its students in attendance. Motivated and inspired, they demonstrate their ability, despite the odds, to put in their best and do all they can to acquire skills and knowledge and return to their daily study and routine of life.

Heads bowed in prayer they recalled the tragedy of the past week and remembered their own families, relatives and friends who have lost lives, houses and property. Every one has been personally affected - directly or indirectly - and the weeklong floods have left painful
memories that will be hard to heal.

It came as a welcome announcement for the students of the school as Fr. Rector welcomed all those who are struggling to travel each day to reside at the school campus. The boys will reside in the gymnasium and the girls will reside in the Savio Aspirantate. "It is important that your studies are not hampered due to long hours of exhausting and tense travel" - said Fr. Dominic Kachira sdb, Rector. Principal of the Institute, Fr. Srimal Priyanga sdb is keen that the normal school programme gets on its way as soon as possible.

The only main road leading to Honiara has now become a three-lane road with traffic moving at a gentle pace. The trip, which would take three quarters of an hour from Henderson to the center of town, now takes two hours and more. While motorists wait their turn to cross the bridge in a single file, several hundred pedestrians are seen walking - right through the day in the heat of the blazing sun - till late at night.

I recall my days in 1999, when I would walk from Honiara to the center of town or SIBC on a daily basis. It is sad that the country that progresses so gradually has now slid back several years.

We seek the help of the Lord and spiritual strength to enable us look for solutions, do what is needed and give hope to our people and our country. Thank you for your support.

(Photo top right: Kerrydee MacDonald sharing the sweets to evacuees currently taking shelter at the DBTI Henderson Gym.)

To give to the appeal for the Salesian community in the Solomon Islands, contact Br Michael Lynch sdb of The Australian Salesian Mission Overseas Aid Fund (ASMOAF) in Melbourne. 

Based on reports from Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb of the Don Bosco Technical Institute (DBTI) Henderson.

Listen to the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program Director, Jenny Hayward-Jones, and Nonresident Fellow, Tess Newton Cain, discussed the recent flooding in Solomon Islands and the impact of Australia's assistance package and the response of the Solomon Island government.