With Felipe Lemos
People in Vanuatu were tracking the cyclone for two weeks before its arrival. during the tense week before it hit, everyone was that it would just ‘move a little to the Three days before the event, there was no much doubt. it was a Category 5 and it was
am late when I arrive at Coco de Mar restaurant to meet Felipe, our favourite dentist. He is actually enjoying his ten minutes of time alone, at ‘his local restaurant’. Located at Island Magic resort, on Devil’s Point Road, Coco de Mar is the place where he usually goes with his family to enjoy some lovely food and great views of Mele Bay. Felipe first came to Vanuatu in 2010 on a one-year contract as a dentist.
“After five years working in Australia, I was ready for a break and Vanuatu sounded like a wonderful place to live and work for a year.”
In his short four years in the country, he has accomplished quite a feat, and all was unplanned.
Six months after his arrival, Felipe meet his partner, Kylie. Twelve months later, he quit his job and together with Kylie decided to start his own clinic. It was only three months later, in June 2012 that Novodental opened. “Not only did we need to find the right location for the clinic but we also had to source everything from overseas, both equipment and suppliers and we wanted the latest in dental technology. It was a very busy and intense time.” In April 2013, less than a year later, Felipe and Kylie welcomed Luca into the world, their first child.
Many of Novodental’s clients from Australia and New Zealand come to Vanuatu specifically to have work done at the clinic.
Felipe and Novodental have performed dozens of full-mouth reconstructions.
He is originally from Porto Alegre (the happy port!) in south Brazil.
He finds Vanuatu to be very similar to the north of Brazil where the culture and landscape are very much alike.
The only time he misses Brazil is in February. What he loves the most about Vanuatu is the lifestyle.
It is the carnival.
“I row three mornings a week before going to work. I have time to play with my child and to be with family and friends. There is a great sense of community and the land is beautiful. What else could you want?”
The three dentists in the clinic are Brazilian but it was never meant to be that way.
“I was looking for an Australian to be our surgeon and implant specialist. I received an application from Dr. Marcel Castro da Cruz. The application came with some great references. Marcel has studied under Renato Quadrado, one of the best students of P.I. Branemark, inventor of the dental implants and father of modern dentistry. In the words of Renato Quadrado, Marcel is ‘a remarkable surgeon’. He is now part of our team.”
His favourite place in Vanuatu is the clinic.
“I am not joking!” he says smiling. But when not at work, he loves to spend time around Havannah and the islands to the north of Pele and Nguna.
He can cook a great ‘Picanha’, a Brazilian BBQ where the meat keeps flowing
from the BBQ grill. His next favourite food is ‘Feijoada’, a typical Brazilian dish with black beans and meat. “I love it but I am not very good at cooking it!”
His son’s second name is Anton, named after his father and Kylie’s grandfather.
Renowned Anton Breinl, Kylie’s grandfather, was a medical scientist famous for his contribution to the knowledge and treatment of tropical diseases.
Felipe and Novodental are big in giving back to the community.
Their mobile dental clinic has volunteer dentists coming from Australia and travels to villages in remote areas of Efate to perform free dental treatment. Novodental’s mobile clinic featured in the annual book of Rotary International. The clinic has received a lot of help from the Ballarat Rotary Club, in Australia, and dentist David Goldsmith. Felipe now plans to open the first dental laboratory in Vanuatu that will be able to make dentures freely available to the local population.
The conversation was everywhere. The Vanuatu ‘monster’ was coming and there was not a thing we could do about it except get ready. Amongst the ‘expat’ circle, parents were wondering whether staying in the country with their children was the responsible thing to do. Conversations in the supermarket switched from the usual optimistic ‘it is just a bit of wind’ to the no longer avoidable questions. ‘What will we do if everything is destroyed? Will our life here be over? Will my house still be here the day after?’ Within the local population, with less access to online information, the fact that confusion reigned regarding its severity only two days before the ‘D-day’ was clear. Some people had heard that the cyclone was not coming; it was ‘very far away’. Most people were not aware of its predicted intensity or how close it would pass. The weather was calm and lovely on Thursday 12th but the tension was palpable. Trucks drove around town carrying 15mm plywood, trollies at the supermarket were filled with boxes of water and candles. Being such a huge system, nobody quite knew exactly when the worst of it would reach each different island. Those who thought their homes were not safe packed up their houses as well as they could and with one last farewell, moved to a safer location. Will you be here tomorrow? Will I ever sleep in my bed again? Friends and families piled up in each other houses. There is nothing quite like feeling you may lose everything you have, and knowing this in advance. On the morning of Friday 13th, the cyclone was working its way through the Northern islands of Vanuatu, where it did pass a little to the right. In Port Vila, the wind and the rain started to pick up slightly but at 3pm it was still nothing more than a reasonable size storm. Not knowing how bad it would get, people were walking around in the streets,
Previous page: The island of Makira was devastated by the cyclone. Photo by Patricia Gil. This page left: This woman and her grandchildren walked more than ten kilometres from an emergency shelter back to their home near Teouma. Photo by Graham Crumb. Top right: Books are left to dry outside Manua School (North Efate). Photo by Groovy Banana www.groovy-banana.com. Bottom right: A New Zealand Air Force Hercules unloads medicines from UNICEF stockpiles in Suva. Photo by Graham Crumb.
waiting for it to worsen before seeking refuge. Text messages from Digicel and TVL started to come in on the phones, informing the population on the alert level and proximity of the cyclone. At 4pm, many people, myself included, were thinking, is this it? Because this is really not so bad at all. After spending the last twelve days with my guts all wound up in a ball of anxiety, the waiting was the worst. The day had finally come, it was 6pm and was this all? It was from then onwards that the cyclone started to resemble the beast that it was to become. Not quite knowing what to expect, but having seen footage of Category 5 cyclones, I thought I knew how bad it would be. Well, I was wrong. It was more intense than anything we could have expected. At 11.30pm the trees were blowing sideways. The wind was so strong that it no longer resembled
Aid is on its way
ndLeft: A board member of the Vanuatu Society for Disabled People stands in the wreckage of the Society’s offices. Photo by Graham Crumb. Top right: Port Vila Harbour. Photo by Patricia Gil. Bottom right: Unelco team. Photo by Valerie Lebeau, Igmedia.
Epi, three brave men stood on a barge, geared up in yellow rain coats and diving goggles. ‘The rain was so heavy we could not see, so we put the goggles on to keep the rain and wind out of our eyes’. They spent the night on the barge, securing the ropes against the cyclone. There are 188,000 stories of that night. On the night of Friday 13th, Category 5 Tropical Super-cyclone Pam hit the Shefa Province and continued its way south. 250km/hour winds with gusts of up to 320km were recorded in Efate and the Shepherd Islands. The worse affected areas were the islands of Efate, Tanna, Erromango, Epi, the Shepherd Islands, Pamma and east Ambryn. It is estimated that over 18,000 houses suffered damage or were destroyed. On the island of Tanna, 90% of houses were damaged or destroyed. In Erromango, Emae and the Shepherd Islands, over 70% of houses were damaged. The cyclone affected over 188,000 people, more than 82,000 of
‘Mack’ lost his entire house, “We kept moving from room to room as each one collapsed until we ended up holing up in the last room that was standing,” he explained. He arrived at Promedical on the Saturday morning asking how he could help and for the next four days he carried water to Efate’s villages and helped with the removal of debris, “I did not have a house to go back to so I stayed and helped,” he said. “I did not do anything extraordinary, just what needed to be done,” he added. In the days after the cyclone, Promedical assembled a team of 150 volunteers who called themselves ‘Renegade Aid’ and tirelessly distributed water, food and medical aid around Efate. Promedical, being a small-size local not-for-profit organization, was one of the fastest NGO’S to deliver help to the villages around the island. Working together with other local not-for-profit groups, such as Wan Smolbag, they devised and coordinated the relief effort. During the following two months, Promedical delivered over 200,000 litres of water and 2.5 tons of food, as well as tarps, tools, building materials, fuel for chainsaws and emergency medical help. Much of it donated by private individuals and distributed by volunteers who contributed their time and vehicles to the effort. A id started to fly in on the days after the cyclone and organizations such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Red Cross, Adra, Care International, Unicef and others assembled their emergency relief teams on the ground, bringing hundreds of disaster response experts to coordinate their response. The NDMO (National Disaster Management Office) started work on the damage assessment and aid delivery plan across the country. Meetings were held by the hour and groups taking care of different priorities were formed. Being an island nation, the logistics of aid delivery were complex. Airports, roads and wharfs in the outer islands were damaged, making delivery to some places virtually impossible. During the first weeks after the cyclone, the people in the outer islands waited. Although the response has been critiqued as ‘slow’, the challenges that the distribution presented were many and the response and commitment of aid organizations to Vanuatu was simply enormous. From March 20th to April 27th, over 151,774 tons of food and 70,261 tons of NFI (Non-food items) were delivered by aid organizations through the NDMO to the affected areas of Vanuatu. According to the NDMO logistics group, 7,287 tons were delivered to the Torba province, 22,134 tons to Penama, 12,153 tons to Malampa, 35,439 tons to Shefa and 144,842 tons to Tafea province. Besides the delivery of food and water, organizations took on their own projects, rehabilitating water supplies and community infrastructure such as schools and hospitals in affected areas. Wells in South East Ambryn and water systems in Epau and Teoma bush were rehabilitated by Oxfam; over 19,000 children were immunized against Measles and Rubella with the help of Unicef; the Australian government provided a total of AU$15 million in humanitarian assistance during the recovery. Many individuals organized their own ‘Go fund me’ campaigns to look after specific communities. This is the case of David Girardeau, from Techno Bois Deco who organized a fundraiser to help his staff rebuild their houses. David and local boat ‘Serenity’, also delivered thousands of litres of water and building materials to the island of Emae. The Havannah resort organized its own fundraiser to help surrounding villages and the expat community delivered food, water and materials in their own boats to neighboring islands such as Nguna and Pele. Many of the local yachts which survived the cyclone made themselves available to transport relief aid to the islands. The organization ACTIV teamed up with Okeanus and purchased 2.5 tons of root crops from the ACTIV farmer network in South West Bay, Malekula, to deliver to the affected islands of Epi, Tongariki and Tongoa. The stories are many, and it is impossible to name all the individuals who through their own fundraisers managed to bring in and distribute hundreds of containers of donated goods. In an effort of huge solidarity, the whole country came together to reach out to the affected areas.
When the lights came on
The cyclone caused substantial damage to power and water supplies, especially in the islands of Efate and Tanna. The speedy response of the main electricity provider, Unelco, can only be described as outstanding. Two days after the cyclone all water was back on and electricity was restored to hospitals, banks, fuel stations, government offices and main stores in the capital. By March 18th, electricity has been restored in down town Port Vila and a team of 35 experts from New Caledonia, Tahiti, Wallis and Futuna were on the ground helping restore power to the rest of the island. For the next two weeks, Unelco
tion and alert level. The fast restoration of networks post-cyclone ensured that people in the affected islands were able to communicate with relatives and ask for help if needed only days after the cyclone. Most of TVL’S network survived the cyclone in the capital and by Monday March 16th, the Digicel network in the capital was almost fully restored. By March 19th, Digicel had restored 56% of its network in Vanuatu and the main towns of Lenekal and Isangel in Tanna were operational by March 23rd. TVL networks were restored in Efate by March 17th. The northern island network was mostly restored by March 22nd and the southern network was mostly restored by March 24th.
Plenty of Pina Coladas and nobody to drink them
resorts and restaurants, but also the retail and food production sectors. In the commerce and industry sector, which makes up approximately 40% of Vanuatu’s GDP, the total damage caused by the cyclone is estimated to be around VT976 million with losses of VT2.2 billion.
Long time before bananas
The industry most affected by the cyclone has been without a doubt, agriculture. Unlike buildings that can be repaired in a few weeks or months, vegetable gardens take months to recover, while certain crops take up to four years. Agriculture provides for 71% of income amongst the rural population who derive their revenue through sales from their own vegetable gardens and their work in the five main production sectors of copra, kava, beef, coffee and cocoa. A Vanuatu’s tourism industry was greatly ccording to the FSAC impacted by the cyclone. Tourism ac(Vanuatu Food Security & counted for 33% of Vanuatu’s GDP in Agriculture Cluster) Cyclone 2010. The damage to the industry by Pam Medium and Long Term the cyclone is estimated at around one Recovery and Rehabilitation Strategy billion vatu. Ironically, it was not the 2015-2017, the damages to the agricultural cyclone itself that had the greatest imsector were in excess of VT1.4 billion pact but the number of cancellations and in destroyed physical assets and VT4.6 lack of bookings incurred post-cyclone. billion in losses created by disruption in Although the country was badly hit, the supply. Agriculture was the most affected cyclone did not create the same amount of the four sub-sectors, with 69% of lossof damage across Vanuatu. The island es and damages. Permanent crops such as of Santo, for example, was virtually kava, banana, coconut, coffee and cocoa unscathed and all tourist properties were were the most affected. It is reported that up and running the next day. Booking almost half of the cattle, pig and chicken cancellations were coming in fast to the populations died in the most affected bewilderment of resorts’ managers who areas. In Port Vila, commercial poultry were experiencing the beautiful sunshine farms lost the majority of their chickens, and pristine Santo landscape as per usual. numbering many thousands. I n Port Vila, it only took a few weeks In terms of food security and agriculture, for properties to clean, clear and Tanna, Erromango and the Shepherd rebuild and less than a month later, Islands were the worst affected by the 95% of resorts, hotels and properties cyclone. The FSAC found that the Shepwere operating as normal. By the end of herd Islands suffered a 100% damage loss April, the green had come back to the with a very low level of access to food island of Efate, the markets were back and recovery potential of crops. Tanna open, and the sun was shining. The loss was one of the hardest hit islands in the to the industry in revenue amounts to Tafea province, with no opportunities millions of dollars, at a time when the for the population to conduct any cashcountry needs the income the most and generating activities. A huge percentage has been, unfortunately undeserved. Acof Tanna’s population depends on kava cording to Vanuatu’s Government ‘Postand coffee production for their income; Disaster Needs Assessment’ released both industries were hit heavily by the in May, the losses to the industry until cyclone. Tanna Coffee is the main cofAugust are estimated to be over VT3.6 fee producer in the country, procuring billion. The spillover effect of a lack of coffee beans from over 500 small-holder visitors affected not only the country’s farmers on the island. “There are around 5,000 people involved in the local industry and with the expected 100 ton crop this year, it would have meant that almost 40 million vatu would have been paid directly to the farmers,” explains Terry Adlington, managing director of Tanna Coffee. “There will be no further raw coffee production for at least another eighteen months and it will be at least four years before we are likely to return to the pre-cyclone position of 100t pa.” Terry estimates losses in terms of raw production to be over 125 million vatu. “The main priorities are to assist in clearing and pruning the estimated 600,000 coffee trees that were damaged during the cyclone and to repair and replace the 45 decentralized raw coffee processing centres that were badly damaged. Another important area is to assist and encourage small-holder farmers to diversify their crops, with an emphasis on growing, processing and marketing fruit and vegetables as an alternative quickreturn crop,” explained Terry. The kava industry was also badly affected, suffering its biggest loses in South East Pentecost and the islands of Ambrym and Epi. “It is hard to say how long it will take to recover. Supply from the affected areas has been almost twice as normal in April, as farmers harvested the mature plants that were damaged before they rot. But those plants should have been harvested at a later time of the year, when there will be a big shortage. Young plantations of one year of age have been completely destroyed in certain areas, and that means that in three years time we will have a period with lower production,” explains Michael Louze, exporter and chairman of the Kava Industry Group.
The next six months
Three months after the event, the country has entered the next stage in the recovery process. Relief efforts have shifted from delivering immediate items of need such as food and water, to rebuilding the infrastructure needed for communities to be once again self-sufficient. Far from the worst being over, the Second Phase Harmonized Assessment report conducted by the Vanuatu Government in May, predicted the situation would worsen during May and June for 50% of communities in Shefa and Tafea provinces.