Tradition Blamed For Slow Solomons Relief
Gizo, Solomon Islands (AFP) Apr 08, 2007
As the death toll from the Solomon Islands tsunami keeps rising, many here blame a local tradition of helping relatives first for delays in getting disaster relief to those in need.
Aid agencies are reluctant to talk about how it has affected relief efforts, putting the slowness of the emergency response down to the region's remoteness, but privately they acknowledge it is a major problem.
Under the tradition of wontok -- pidgin for "one talk" or those who speak the same local language -- locals are obliged to help their relatives and clan members first.
"Wontok is always an issue," said one senior aid official who refused to be named. "It's a way of life over here."
The death toll from last Monday's 8.0-magnitude quake and tsunami has risen to 39 and an estimated 6,000 have been left homeless in the remote western region of the impoverished South Pacific archipelago, aid officials said.
Devastated local residents are scathing about the impact of wontok on a relief effort already struggling to get aid to affected populations scattered on the dozens of islands in the west of the Solomons.
"This wontok system is a very bad thing, I think someone needs to fix it because we are getting nothing," said fisherman Laurence Walter from the village of Pienuna on Ranongga island.
Aid agencies were yet to reach the island when AFP visited on a chartered motorboat Saturday, a full five days after Monday's disaster.
Walter said Pienuna's population of about 450 people fled from the shoreline after the quake and were still camped in the hills, short of drinking water and proper shelter.
He was angry about the lack of contact from the regional capital Gizo, where the international aid effort is based, and believed wontok was responsible.
"You make some noise in Gizo about getting help to Ranongga," he told AFP. "Or maybe we will have to go to Gizo ourselves and make a big noise."
In Titiana, a village on Gizo that was wiped out by the tsunami, locals also blamed wontok for a lack of aid in the days immediately after the quake.
"We are second-class black people to Honiara because of wontok, we don't have the people there to get us supplies quickly," a villager said this week before supplies reached their temporary camp.
Like most in the region, the people of Titiana have been sheltering in hill camps as aftershocks continue to shake the ground, making villagers afraid to return to what is left of their coastal settlements in case of another tsunami.
Large stockpiles of food and relief supplies have been arriving in Gizo since Thursday and UN disaster assessment coordination official Peter Muller said the next step was to get it out to those in need.
He said he hoped aid would start to flow in the next few days to outlying areas, which have so far received little assistance.
Aid agency World Vision said Sunday that the official death toll from the quake and subsequent tsunami had risen to 39 and was likely to climb sharply in the next few days.
World Vision spokesman Martin Thomas said the latest toll was based on information collated on Thursday, three days after the disaster, and would rise as reports filter back from remote islands.
"It's difficult to be sure of the numbers because the teams are still out there collecting information," he said in Gizo, just 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the quake's epicentre.
"They're finding freshly-dug graves when they go into villages but because of the situation, they're not in a position to carry out a census."
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Honiara (AFP) April 10, 2007
The death toll from last week's earthquake and tsunami in the Solomon Islands has risen to 40, officials said Tuesday, but some remote areas are still waiting for aid to reach them.
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