Diana Paul

Guest blogger from Vanuatu Women's Centre

Cyclone Pam has caused mass devastation of the tiny island nation of Vanuatu. Diana Paul, 32, was evacuated from her home on Friday 20th March, the morning before the cyclone. When she and her husband returned the next day, their house was no longer there. You'd think the worst would be over, but violent attacks on women in the shelters mean that she is still fearing for her safety. Diana shares her story.

Diana Paul, 32, standing in front a temporary shelter for people who's homes have been destroyed by Cyclone Pam

The cyclone blew my house away 

When we got down to the river to where our house had been, we saw it had been blown away entirely. As soon as I saw it I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. The next day my husband had to go to New Zealand to work for seven months picking fruit. He had to go or we would have no money at all. So now I am left alone with my two children.

Since then we have been sleeping in an emergency shelter. We don’t have materials to rebuild, or money to buy them. Not knowing what will happen to my children keeps me awake at night.

Homes destroyed by Cyclone Pam, Island of Tanna, Vanuatu

Violent attacks in the shelters

To make it worse, the police have told us not to sleep too deeply anyway, because the shelters are not safe. There is no fencing, barely any lighting, and the doors don’t shut. I am afraid of intruders – we have heard stories of attacks on women in the streets by men with knives.

Even in normal times there are often physical fights. In my community of 200 people, I would say there is a fight once a month. For women this is normal. Half the women in Vanuatu have experienced sexual and physical violence from a partner and 60 per cent from a non-partner.

The last time my husband hit me it was with a wrench. When I saw him go to grab it from under the bed I screamed and cried. I was terrified. He hit me over the head with it and I bled and bled.

Stopping the violence is as critical as food

Since the cyclone women are even more vulnerable than usual. If we could stop the violence – the physical and the emotional violence - I would say that this is as critical as food and water for us women right now.

Women stand where their store used to be. They saved for 3 years to set up a village store. Now they stand where it used to be. But they are determined to rebuild.

It is essential for us to build new houses as soon as possible to protect ourselves. We can work hard and we are strong. But we do not know how to build houses, so for this we need help.

It is terrible enough that women like Diana have lost their homes. But now they are living in daily dread of being attacked as well. We’re on the ground working with local women's groups to help them lead the disaster response, prevent violence and provide counselling for those who've been traumatised. As Diana's story shows, time is of the essence. Women urgently need somewhere safe to sleep at night.



Photos by Jeff Tan/ActionAid

Richard Miller

Humanitarian Director

Late last week we found out that our office in Uganda was part of a wide ranging coalition which among other things was advising farmers that they could potentially contract cancer from growing genetically modified crops.

We work with farmers like Polly in Katakwi District, eastern Uganda to promote sustainable agriculture

This is not a significant part of ActionAid Uganda's programme. Nevertheless our guidelines are very clear. They ask ActionAid country programmes not to take a position on the health impacts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), because health related research is highly contested and we do not have the necessary expertise to make informed decisions.

When I contacted my counterpart, Arthur in Uganda he confirmed that the comments had been made as a small part of a two-hour interview with the journalist. But Arthur also acknowledged that ActionAid should not have been involved in the health debate around GM, and will not be in future.

Does ActionAid support GM technology?

I should say here that we are neither for nor against GM technology, but we do support a precautionary approach. The reality is that there have been mixed experiences with GMOs worldwide and that context is everything.

We do not run any global campaigns on GM, but in some countries there is an overlap between the GM debate and the challenges of feeding the world's 935 million hungry people.

Working with farmers in Uganda to promote sustainable agriculture

Our expertise lies in tackling rural poverty and hunger through the promotion of sustainable agriculture.

One of the farmers we work with in Uganda is Polly Apio. She lives with her husband and 11 children in Odom Village, Katakwi District, a drought-prone region in Eastern Uganda. Polly grows oranges, groundnuts, cowpeas and cassava on 10 acres of family-owned land, which she uses to feed her family and make a living.

We work with farmers like Polly in Katakwi District, eastern Uganda to promote sustainable agriculture

With our help she is working to promote sustainable agriculture and the status of women farmers. Polly is an influential leader in her community and has spearheaded the creation of a cooperative for women farmers that pools community resources to build up local food stocks.

Supporting smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers is the real focus of ActionAid's work in Uganda.

How can sub-Saharan Africa achieve food security?

Over 95% of the world's agriculture is non-GM.

Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development at Imperial College London acknowledges some role for GM, but goes on to say:

"Sub-Saharan Africa will achieve food security over the next couple of decades primarly through conventional means."

We believe supporting climate-resilient sustainable agriculture is a productive and key means of tackling the climate and water stresses which are having such a detrimental impact on the ability of people living in poverty to grow their own food and feed themselves.

Of course we have learnt some important lessons this week about how we work as a federation across 45 countries. But it will not weaken our resolve to end global hunger.

GM crops, Uganda

Why is everyone talking about water?

Michelle Lowery

Communications Team

How often do you think about the water you’re using? I'll be honest, I don’t usually think about it too much. I get up, shower, brush my teeth, make coffee and so on. I always have access to water, I always have something to drink, which means I’m able to concentrate, I’m able to do my job, I stay healthy and I don’t get sick.
But that isn’t the case for 800 million people worldwide who don’t have access to clean safe water, in places where a lack of water can mean life or death. This World Water Day we want to show you how water is changing lives for good for just some of the people we work with around the world.

Six-year-old Helena in Mozambique has to walk an hour a day each way to fetch and carry water from this well

#WaterIs life or death

Lack of water can mean that people (usually women and girls) miss out on education, or a career and a chance to escape poverty.

Water is often far away from where people live, so instead of children being in school or parents earning a living, they spend their days collecting water, day in day out (like six-year old Helena in the photo above). We're helping to change this though, with some really simple but effective projects.

#WaterIs an education in Myanmar

Installing water tanks and pipes from the nearby ActionAid-funded dam helps eight-year-old Chit and nine-year-old Hein to stay in school for longer. Having access to clean, safe water in their school means they no longer have to walk home or long distances when they need a drink of water or to wash their hands. 

Chit Phyo, 8, (cheque shirt) and Hein Thus, 9.

#WaterIs helping women build a career in Kenya

Muli from Kenya is a mother of six children and in the past she struggled to feed her family. Working with ActionAid and other people in her village Muli helped to build a dam, so now her community has water all year round.

Muli grows her own fruit and vegetables using water from the dam she helped build

Muli has started to grow her own fruit and vegetables that not only feed her family but that she can sell on market and use the money to pay for her children to go to school.

#WaterIs life-saving in Liberia

Teaching a child to wash their hands properly is important wherever you live, but in Liberia it is literally life-saving. ActionAid’s work training thousands of people how to properly wash their hands has helped to stop the spread of Ebola amongst communities all across the country.

ActionAid Liberia Ebola Outbreak response. Awareness raising and hand-washing demonstration.

So it’s very simple. Water, and access to it, can change people’s lives for good.

You can help us make sure more children have access to clean safe water, by becoming a child sponsor. Child sponsorship helps the entire community, and these communities often tell us that what they need is water. Very pure, very simple.


Devastation as Cyclone Pam hits Vanuatu

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.

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.

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.


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 having fun in school in Chanshegu, Northern Ghana. UK international aid supports education projects across many of the world’s poorer countries.

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.


Tina Kang

BTP Team

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.

Latitude Festival 2015: Latitude by Luke Wright

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