Think Twice Before Travelling to a Disaster Zone ?

We all assume that disaster response springs into action after a disaster and that aid gets through to those in need within a reasonable space of time. In some situations that does occur, but like everything else these days, aid and relief has become heavily politicised. Both the Vanuatu Government after the tragedy of Cyclone Pam in March 2015, and the Nepalese Government after the earthquake in April 2015 demanded direct control over all aspects regarding relief supplies. A virtual power struggle occurred between the respective Governments and the various responding aid agencies although this has been heavily denied. The critical point is that as a result, delays ensued, distribution was fragmented, and people in need suffered. While there were regions that received aid expeditiously, others suffered for many weeks on end.

What is to be done when such situations occur ? As travellers, if we were going to a disaster region, what do we do ?

If your time in a disaster zone will lead to more benefits, than detriments to the people, then by all means go. However, there are a vast number of well-intentioned people that want to go and help, but have not idea how to cope with the of loss of shelter, food and basic necessities that exists in disaster zones. Travellers not experienced in such occurrences should stay away, as they will only add to the misery of the people who are trying to cope themselves.

A Personal Account | After Cycone Pam, and Travelling to Tanna Island ?
(Written in the immediate aftermath)

The following is a personal account regarding taking a Food Package to Tanna. Ultimately the amount is small, but every little can help and may make an enormous difference at a critical time. At worst, it will mean that the people, in the disaster zone whom travellers are going to help, don't end up trying to feed one more needlessly.

The Reality of Available Food after Cyclone Pam ?


Cyclone Pam basically destroyed anything that was above ground, which means all fruit-bearing trees and palms (including coconut), all leafy greens that are part of a mainstay on the island. It also caused all the root vegetables to rot, and the coral reefs have been very badly affected, limiting any fish that can be caught. Over the last year all the available cattle had already been killed and eaten, and presently most stock has been laid waste. Chickens have vanished.

The bottom line is while there is no food now, there will be no real source of Protein and Fibre for quite some time. In time (months) plantings will start to provide segmented sections of a diet. Any Aid if received, will be mainly in the form of rice (carbohydrate). The average diet on Tanna will be atrocious, and obviously, general health will most likely be affected, especially amongst the children.

What can we as Visitors or Tourists Do to Help ?


Its, important that the people get a better diet, and anyone going there can help, even if it's only a little. At the moment if you travel Air Vanuatu, for all your flights and get on the ATR to Tanna, you can take 23 kg of luggage plus hand luggage of 7kg. If your international flight is not Air Vanuatu, or you are on one of the small planes, then you are limited to 10 kg luggage and 5kg hand luggage.
You can help by limiting clothes etc to your hand luggage and take a full Food Package as your main Luggage.

If you preplan and talk to Air Vanuatu you may be able to get an extra discretionary 7 kg on your main luggage if you explain that its all food, and if you are cheeky try the max per package weight of 32 kg. the children.

A First off Exercise to Bring Food to Tanna?




I’m not an expert on Nutrition but have a good working knowledge of a balanced diet. There are some bureaucratic rules in terms of bringing food into any country, and these must be adhered to. This, of course, limits you to prepackaged, mainly dried food, which eliminates anything fresh. Further, anything such as meat and dairy products can’t be refrigerated so they are not practical in the heat of the tropics.

You are left with a Vegetarian diet – one that is prepackaged and consists of dried food. Dare I say it – beans and pulses and a menu that is more akin to that found in South East Asia and India, than in the South Pacific.

The problem with selecting reasonable food, is that there is a wide variety of foods that all seem to be the same. Two products that look similar can have quite different food group constituents. I spent two afternoons, going to various food outlets before having a degree of confidence on what to buy.

There is a need to maximize the Protein and Fibre levels, and even a few percentage points here and there ( look at the makeup of 100g – on the packaging), all add up to a greater amount of the two food groups they are lacking in. You will be surprised how much difference there is in seemingly small things like favour sachets and items like Cabin Biscuits differ wildly, with some displaying virtually no nutritional value whatsoever.

My 32kg Food Packages.


Anne and I are off to Tanna ourselves, and we have made up two separate, but similar food packages, each of which fills up a 60-litre plastic container (needed to store the food when at the other end in any case). The 60 litre Sistema Containers seem fairly light but robust enough for the job.

I have prepared a food list which is detailed below, with the common ingredients at the top and the differences ( List A and List B) listed below. It's not a balanced diet as we know, but given what can be mixed in at the other end, and taking into account the limitations, it is probably the best you can get.

It does limit the amount of rice to about 10kg, and while this is not enough for the rest of the quantities, there is an assumption that rice will able to be obtained somehow in the future. The other ingredients will be almost impossible to get hold of and therefore have priority. Of course, everyone will have their own ideas and will modify the list accordingly. You will note that I have put in the percentages of each food group alongside each item, and this has been done to give you a benchmark to aim for each. The brands have been called up as they were the best that I could find, and if you are able to get them, will cut down the time shopping.

You will note that ‘Gilmours’ products are called up quite a bit – They are a food wholesaler in New Zealand and sell to small business entities, both bulk food, and known brands – all packaged. We have been lucky to get 3kg packaged lots of beans, pulses, and nuts which make the overall cost reasonable. You may need to hunt around to obtain a similar supplier.

I offer the list as a first off to try and do something at a personal level that makes a difference.

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