Devastation as Cyclone Pam hits Vanuatu

Mike Noyes's picture
Mike Noyes Head of Humanitarian Response

Tropical Cyclone Pam has ripped through the remote islands of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean, causing chaos and destruction. As ActionAid staff make their way to Vanuatu to help with the emergency response, here’s what we know so far about this humanitarian disaster.

Young boy Samuel stands with his father Phillip amongst the ruins of their destroyed home in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam on Monday 16th March, 2015.
Samuel stands with his father Phillip amongst the ruins of their destroyed home in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam on Monday 16th March, 2015.
Photo: Withheld by Associated Press

Cyclone Pam: the damage so far

The category 5 Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila, on Efate Island on the evening of Friday 13 March. Information is still coming in about the impact, especially from the outlying islands. But reports say it’s the strongest storm to make landfall since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013.

What we do know is:

  • Winds of up to 200 miles per hour have killed at least 50 people, with the death toll expected to rise.
  • Damage is widespread and severe: the entire population of Vanuatu has been affected in some way.
  • At least 10,000 people have been made homeless.  
  • Up to 90% of buildings in the capital Port Vila have been damaged.
  • Power supplies are down and food and clean water are in short supply.


Where is Vanuatu?

Map of Vanuatu 

Vanuatu is a nation made up of 82 islands stretching over a wide area of the Pacific Ocean, around 1,000 miles to the east of Australia.

It has a total population of around 250,000 people (about the same as the population of Reading or Plymouth).  

Why has Vanuatu been so badly hit?

75% of Vanuatu’s population live in rural areas and remote islands. Many people don’t have access to basic health services, a regular or safe water supply, modern energy or reliable transport.

And that was the reality of life on Vanuatu before the cyclone struck.

As many people rely on agriculture and fishing to survive, their livelihoods are likely to have been completely wiped out by the damage.

What is ActionAid doing to help?

We’ve deployed a team of emergency specialists from Vanuatu’s neighbours Australia and from Asia to assess how we can best help right now. The President of Vanuatu has identified food, water and shelter as immediate priorities.

Our experience as a humanitarian agency tells us that every emergency is different, and that the needs of the people affected always vary. So we will work with the people of Vanuatu to establish what they need in this time of crisis and how we can provide it.

How you can help

We’re asking supporters to donate what they can now to our emergency response. You'll be helping people to rebuild their lives.


Amazing news about the 0.7% aid commitment!

Florence de Vesvrotte's picture
Florence de Vesvrotte Government Relations Advisor

Yesterday was a big day for international development, as the UK committed to giving 0.7% of our national income on aid to help developing countries.

Children excitedly waving their hands in the air in their school classroom in Chanshegu, Northern Ghana
Children having fun in school in Chanshegu, Northern Ghana. UK international aid supports education projects across many of the world’s poorer countries.
Photo: Jane Hahn/Panos Pictures/ActionAid

Committing to support developing countries

British pounds regularly saves lives by helping people living in poverty or affected by natural disasters, wars, and disease through the UK government’s international aid programme. However, up until now, the UK had not legally committed to giving a set amount of aid.

Now that’s all changed. Yesterday, The International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill that was introduced by Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore has become law.

This means it is now a legal requirement for the UK government to meet the UN's target of contributing 0.7% of our Gross National Income each year to developing countries.

The first G7 country to meet the UN’s target

First pledged 35 years ago in a 1970 General Assembly Resolution, the 0.7% target has been acknowledged in many international agreements over the years, but had never been adopted by the UK. By passing the bill we have become the first G7 country to reach the target.

What this means for developing countries

The passing of the bill means that rather than wasting time debating about how much the UK should spend on aid, instead, the UK can focus on aid effectiveness, ensuring that money is spent in the best possible way for those who need it.

Now there will be more money available to help rapidly respond when disasters like Ebola happen, more money to pay for essential public services like healthcare and education, and more money to help women and children claim their rights - like the right to food, the right to go to school and the right to be heard.

Helping poorer countries tackle poverty themselves

While this is great news, aid is only part of the answer to tackling poverty. Ultimately poorer countries need to be able to raise enough money by themselves to tackle poverty, which means collecting money through taxation. That is why we're campaigning for changes to the UK tax laws that would make sure developing countries can raise billions of pounds more in tax from UK companies that operate there.


This summer, we’re hosting a brand new ActionAid tent at Latitude festival and we’re inviting you along to the party!

For the first time ever, ActionAid and Latitude have teamed up to change lives for good with thousands of festival-goers - and you! Volunteer with us at the festival and we'll treat you to a free festival ticket.

Volunteering in the ActionAid tent

As an ActionAid volunteer, by day, you’ll help to host creative craft workshops and fun activities in the ActionAid tent, while chatting to festival-goers about our work and taking photos. You’ll help to raise funds for ActionAid’s work too, because we’re teaming up with one of the Latitude Festival acts to design some limited edition festival merchandise  - available to buy exclusively at the festival with all proceeds going to ActionAid. 

Each night, you'll be ditching your wellies for your dancing shoes as the tent transforms into a club night venue with some incredible entertainment and DJs. Watch out for the artist signings and guest DJ sets from the Latitude line-up too!

Why volunteer with ActionAid at Latitude 2015?

By volunteering with ActionAid you'll be helping to change lives, for good.

Festivals are magical places for storytelling and you'll be inspiring festival-goers with some of ActionAId's life-changing stories. You might be telling people about Jembe Tatu, the young Kenyans who are changing their lives through music or spreading the word about the incredible story of Janet, who walked 6 days to escape female genital mutilation.

You can help us tell all these stories, and more, while you come alive at Latitude.

If that's still not enough to tempt you, just take a look at the line-up!

Latitude 2015 line up

See your favourite band play live, bond with strangers over warm beer, and help ActionAid change lives for good.


Photo credit: Festival Republic

Gaza six months after the ceasefire

Jane Moyo's picture
Jane Moyo Head of Media Relations

It’s exactly six months since Israel's shelling of Gaza ended. Thanks to donations to ActionAid through the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal we're still helping women and children like Ghada and Mahmood to recover from the trauma and rebuild their lives.

Children take water canisters to their shelters by cart in Beit Hanoun, Gaza
Children take water canisters to their shelters by cart in the city of Beit Hanoun, in northeast Gaza
Photo: ActionAid

The damage and destruction caused by 50 days of conflict between 7 July and 26 August 2014 was unprecedented in the long history of struggle between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories:

  • 2,205 Palestinians (1,483 civilians) and 71 Israelis (4 civilians) were killed.
  • More than a quarter of all civilian deaths were students.
  • An estimated 14,000 homes were destroyed.
  • Around half a million Palestinians were displaced and 108,000 are still homeless.

Behind the statistics are people's stories.

Helping children overcome the trauma

Mahmoud, 10, is one of thousands of children whose lives have been torn apart. His house has been reduced to rubble. Friends killed. All his possessions destroyed.The only thing he managed to rescue was his guitar, which, though partly broken, is now his only comfort: “I like to play the guitar because music takes you away from life.”

Mahmoud, 10, playing his guitar, Gaza

Mahmood started playing the guitar five years ago when he was given it as a fifth birthday present. He wants to be a musician when he grows up, just like his hero Mohammed Assaf who won Arab Idol.

Though the shelling ended six months ago, for children like Mahmoud the trauma of their experiences will stay with them for years to come.

That's why we’re helping children like Mahmood to cope with their experiences. We've given trauma care to 375 children, through counselling, art and drama. And we’ve supplied much needed medicines to health clinics.

Rebuilding women’s lives in Gaza

We’ve also been helping women rebuild their livelihoods.

Ghada Abdelaziz Wahden, 36, told us that the only precious thing she has left in life is her baby daughter, Lianne, who was two months old at the time of the shelling: “As soon as my house was hit, she was the first and only thing I took.”

Ghada Abdelaziz Wahden, 36, Gaza

When we met Ghada she was living in a school and desperately needed food for herself and milk and clothes for Lianne. Her family’s only source of income was farming a small plot of land but it was completely destroyed.

As well as supporting families with food and basic items such as soap, blankets and mattresses we’re also helping women build new livelihoods so they can support themselves and their families in the long term.

For example, we’ve supported women like Ghada to start poultry farms. A £225 starter kit supplies 10 chickens, one rooster and cages and fodder for three months. This not only provides much needed protein for the family but a stable income of about £140 a year.

Poultry delivered through ActionAid partner

Encouraging peace and an end to the Israel Gaza conflict

While we continue to help the people of Gaza to recover and rebuild, what they need more than anything is peace. But there will be no long term peace when half the people of Gaza go hungry and when 80 per cent are reliant on aid.

What's needed is a political settlement between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The international community must help all sides address the root causes of the conflict.

Most importantly, there must be an end to the Israeli blockade that has existed since 2007 which stops the free movement of people and goods, making poverty even worse.


Why we're showing the love for Bangladesh

Natalie Curtis's picture
Natalie Curtis Senior Editorial and Stories Manager

This Valentine’s Day, at ActionAid we're wearing our heart on our sleeve and standing up for what we love that could be lost to climate change. We’ve joined the UK Climate Coalition - the largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change - to #showthelove.

Friends Khaleda and Kadidja, 13, hugging each other in a paddy field in Bangladesh.
Friends Khaleda and Kadidja, 13, are sponsored by ActionAid in Bangladesh.
Photo: Nicolas Axelrod

There’s so much people love that could be lost to climate change, from polar bears to the amazon rainforest, but at ActionAid the thing we love the most is people. We work with the poorest people in the world, living on the margins of survival. And it’s these people who are being hit first and worst by climate change.

Bangladesh is home to 160 million people. It’s gorgeously green and bursting with life.  But it’s among the countries most affected by climate change and ranks first as the nation likely to lose the most in the future.

Three things Bangladesh could lose to climate change


With more than 700 rivers, Bangladesh has a deliciously lush landscape that families have handed down from generation to generation.

But the increasing rise in sea level, caused by climate change, coupled with extreme weather like typhoons and hurricanes, means flooding is more severe and happening more often.  It’s demolishing people’s homes and crops. It’s destroying their livelihoods. 

Paddy field, Bangladesh


Agriculture is really important in Bangladesh.  It is the main provider of jobs, and rice – the country's staple crop – is vital to feed its 160 million people. 

But as sea levels rise, rice paddies and farmland are getting more and more salty, making it extremely difficult to grow crops.   

With 37 million people already facing food shortages in Bangladesh, it’s extremely worrying that more than half of coastal areas are now affected by salty water, making farmland useless.  


Our sponsored children enjoy going to school in Bangladesh.

But flooding and storms keep disrupting children’s schooling. Whether that’s studying in cramped make-shift classrooms when schools flood, or missing school altogether to take shelter, climate change is making getting an education even harder for kids already at a disadvantage.

Mohammadpur happy home, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Fears for the future

The communities we work with in Bangladesh are proud of the huge strides the country has made since its independence in 1971, including progress on gender equalityfood production and healthcare, but the effects of climate change are a threat to everything that has been achieved.

It’s not too late

For 32 years we’ve been helping over half a million people fight poverty and claim their rights in Bangladesh, and we’re not about to stop now. 

The science is proven. Time is short. But love is strong and if we act now, we could save the Bangladesh we love. 



How Boko Haram is devastating lives in Nigeria

Jane Moyo's picture
Jane Moyo Head of Media Relations

This Saturday, it will be ten months since 14 April 2014 – the day the Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria. As the Jihadist group expands its campaign of terror, we take a look at the devastating effect this is having on Nigerian people, especially its children.

Shaku, 16, is the brother of a schoolgirl abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeri
Shaku, 16, is the brother of a schoolgirl abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria
Photo: ActionAid

Boko Haram, which means 'Western education is forbidden', wants to create an independent country in the far north-east of Nigeria, based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law. Despite the huge international support of the campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, the girls still haven't been found, and disturbingly: 

  • Boko Haram attacks are more and more violent: destroying villages, committing mass murder and kidnapping women and children
  • last year Nigeria had more civilian war deaths than any other African country
  • latest research shows that nearly 6,450 civilians died in 2014 because of the conflict started by Boko Haram.

Living in fear of Boko Haram

Shaku, 16, is the brother of one of the 276 girls kidnapped in April. He said: ‘I loved my sister very much. We would read together and she would help teach me things that I didn’t know. When I remember these things, I can’t sleep and I start to cry.’ Shaku is one of thousands whose families have been torn apart by losing a loved one to Boko Haram violence.

As the attacks become more violent, naturally people are panicking. ‘Every day, especially in the night, people would scream “Boko Haram are coming” and all the family would run and hide in the fields,’ Shaku explained.

The threat of Boko Haram means large parts of Nigeria have become no-go areas, as those who can, flee to safer towns and cities. Shaku’s parents were so worried about keeping him safe that they sent him and his remaining sister away to live with an uncle in the capital Accra.

Children are too scared to go to school

Boko Haram is also having a very damaging effect on education in Nigeria. The country already had the highest number of children out of school, but now fear of kidnap and abduction is making both girls and boys scared to go to class. And not just in the north east of Nigeria, but all over the country. Even in relatively safe areas, children are being pulled out of school because their parents are afraid that they will be targeted.

Boko Haram are also increasingly using children in suicide bombings. Dr Hussaini Abdu, our Nigeria Country Director, suspects many children are being forced to work for the extremists. He said: 'Children can easily be indoctrinated or coerced, especially in a religious and patriarchal environment.'

Precious Luka, 15, Manchok school, Kaduna state, Nigeria

How Boko Haram is affecting the Nigerian elections

Boko Haram does not believe in democracy, so it is no coincidence that the recent expansion of terror has occurred just before national elections. Because Boko Haram targets public places with large crowds, people are likely to fear going to polling stations. Nigeria was scheduled to go to the polls on 14 February to vote for a new president but now that has been postponed. 

Hussaini Abdu believes that Nigeria’s army needs international reinforcement: ‘The Nigerian government must reach out to the international community, if our government is ever going to stop Boko Haram’s continuing attempt to end Nigerian democracy through killing and kidnapping innocent people’.

Tackling poverty in Nigeria

As the humanitarian crisis in the north-east gets worse and Boko Haram continues to undermine education, our work tackling poverty across Nigeria and fighting for children’s right to go to school is all the more important.

Despite the risks, we’re continuing to:

  • actively promote quality, free and compulsory education in Nigeria, especially for girls
  • provide safe spaces for girls in our schools through Girls’ Clubs
  • work with communities to encourage more girls to enrol in and stay at school. 

Hussaini Abdu is also urging the international community to encourage the Nigerian government to respond to the vulnerability of communities and ensure that children like Shaku can go to school without fear.