Vanuatu’s women battle for their livelihoods against double blow of cyclone and drought

More than half of Vanuatu’s population of more than 270,000 was affected by Cyclone Pam. Around 96% of crops were destroyed, leaving many women without food or produce to sell. In the year after the cyclone, a prolonged El Niño-fuelled drought prevented replanting, causing months of crop failure, a shortage of water and food and the decimation of the livelihoods of market vendors, the majority of whom are women. UN Women has been working with market vendors, market councils and Vanuatu’s provincial and national government and the Australian Government to help women restore women’s livelihoods and help build resilience to future external shocks like Cyclone Pam. UN Women through its Markets for Change project helped establish vendor associations in Vanuatu and other Pacific islands.
Below are portraits and testimonies of the women who are part of the Silae Vanua Market Vendor Association, which is supported by UN Women.

“Breastfeeding is hard when we don’t have much water. I use the salt water and the small amount of freshwater we have for the children.”

“Breastfeeding is hard when we don’t have much water. I use the salt water and the small amount of freshwater we have for the children.”

A trained nurse-aide, Lody Samson, 39, is a mother of three children under 14, including son Solomon Samson who is 8 months old. The coastal village of Koinga where she lives was hit hard by Cyclone Pam, which spoiled their food crops. Now most of the village’s water tanks are empty. Lody and her husband feed people who come to the church, but the lack of water makes it difficult.

Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

“We made a place for the women’s association to meet and talk but it was destroyed in the Cyclone. Now I have to walk to every house to visit the women.”

“We made a place for the women’s association to meet and talk but it was destroyed in the Cyclone. Now I have to walk to every house to visit the women.”

Janis Kalo, 58, leads the local women’s association and church groups on Moso — which is known as the ‘dry island’. Cyclone Pam destroyed many houses and village buildings, as well as village crops. Janis and her family have a garden on the mainland, where there are fewer pigs and the sun is not as strong, but the drought means the crops are growing slowly. Instead, she and her family must buy their food from the market.
Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

“People are coming from other villages and washing up in the river from where we get our drinking water. We are trying to provide some proof that the water is being ruined. The quality of our water is a big concern.”

“People are coming from other villages and washing up in the river from where we get our drinking water. We are trying to provide some proof that the water is being ruined. The quality of our water is a big concern.”

Carolyn Baba, 42, stands in front of a fallen tamarind tree that sustained her family income by providing wood for carving after Cyclone Pam devastated her garden in March 2015. The El Niño drought that followed now poses additional problems. New crops are stunted and shrivelled and the house water tank, which supports 12 families in Meten village, Efate, is empty. Water must now be collected from a river 20 minutes away.
Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

“After Cyclone Pam there was no food. The island food was destroyed. Now we just buy rice. Then we planted manioc, small yam, taro, island cabbage. But it’s not ready because of El Niño. I’m looking forward to the next planting season but I’m worried about the sun.”

“After Cyclone Pam there was no food. The island food was destroyed. Now we just buy rice. Then we planted manioc, small yam, taro, island cabbage. But it’s not ready because of El Niño. I’m looking forward to the next planting season but I’m worried about the sun.” — Roslyn Moli

Jenny Tom (30), Roslyn Moli (30) and Julia Morris (29) live in Tasariki village on Moso Island. All three are members of Silae Vanua, the first market vendor association to be legally registered in Vanuatu, and in the past they headed to the market by boat and road twice a month, staying in Port Vila for up to five days at a time. Now, however, there is very little fresh produce on the island to eat, let alone sell. A year ago Moso was among the islands devastated by Cyclone Pam and is now suffering from the effects of an El Niño drought.
Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

“Sometimes I feel sad and I’m worrying. The mamas need to clean but the stream is dry. The spring runs now but it is small.”

“Sometimes I feel sad and I’m worrying. The mamas need to clean but the stream is dry. The spring runs now but it is small.”

Serah Toara, 58, is an executive member of the Silae Vanua Market Vendor committee and works part time as a pastor, in particular caring for women in community. Before Cyclone Pam, Serah earned money from selling produce she grew in her garden on a plateau in Teouma Dark Bush just outside the capital of Port Vila. Cyclone Pam destroyed the garden and the replanted crops are stunted and dying because of the El Niño drought. While she has access to a spring on her land, other villagers are walking for up to an hour every day to collect water for drinking and washing.
Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

“It is hard work but it is good. You are put here to live in this world to live for a purpose; to look after the community and the village.”

“It is hard work but it is good. You are put here to live in this world to live for a purpose; to look after the community and the village.”

Edna Kalskar is president of the Womens’ Association, active in her church community and a member of the Silae Vanua Market Vendors Association. A widow, she lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Since Cyclone Pam, several houses in Eton village do not receive piped water from the village tank. Instead, Edna must walk or catch the bus to collect water at a river 2km away.
Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

“When we have money we go to the market to buy fruit. We even buy pawpaw and pineapple. The children run around but afterwards I can’t give them water, even though they ask for it.”

“When we have money we go to the market to buy fruit. We even buy pawpaw and pineapple. The children run around but afterwards I can’t give them water, even though they ask for it.”

Laisavie Daisy Joel, 42, lives with her family of five and owns a pig and a cow. The El Niño drought means that she has to go to Port Vila by bus to get waste bread to feed them, something she can only do when she has the money. She attended an agriculture course ahead of the drought and has put what she learned into practice, but the sun is so hot that the crops are not growing and the water is running out.
Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

Netty Ishmael, 77, lost most of her house in Cyclone Pam. Ten months later she still has a tarpaulin for her roof, has lost her garden to the El Niño drought and relies completely on her late husband’s extended family for support.


Netty Ishmael, 77, lost most of her house in Cyclone Pam. Ten months later she still has a tarpaulin for her roof, has lost her garden to the El Niño drought and relies completely on her late husband’s extended family for support.

Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd


This photo essay originally appeared on the UN Women website. It has been republished here with permission.


One Comment on “Vanuatu’s women battle for their livelihoods against double blow of cyclone and drought”

  1. Nasimal ( Nasingamelip ) says:

    Over a year now the TC Pam and our Government must address the water problems. We live on islands and therefore we do have a lot of underground water, fresh water. They must start drilling again, like 15-20 years ago. In Malekula, we never seen those drilling anymore. We need them to start drilling again. “NO WATER NO LIFE”.Thank you and I pray our AHAYAH bless and guide you.

    Like