Banaban Voice

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Banabans Can’t Wait - Organizing their Own Emergency Food Rations for Rabi

Tuesday 23 March 2010 Savusavu-Rabi, Fiji by Stacey King

Banaban, Ken Sigrah rang this morning from the lorry as they drove off from Savusavu heading for Karoko. He reported out of his FJD$3,000 Donations budget he was able to get the following food rations for general village distribution planned for tomorrow on Rabi. He said that all the food prices in Savusavu had gone up rapidly due to the current crisis.
This is an approximate list as Ken lost contact with us as the lorry left the phone tower in Savusavu. He will make contact again tonight from Rabi via Sat. phone to confirm this provisions list and provide more details:

400kg (8 x 50kg) Flour
200kg (4 x 50kg) Sugar (This was all he could purchase as supplies now in Savusavu are beginning to run very short especially sugar. When you consider Fiji is supposed to be a sugar growing nation not much on the ground in the north at the moment)
200kg (8 x 25kg) Dahl
200kg (4 x 50kg) Rice

8 x Bulk (40 individual packs) cartons of Salt
Kerosene (this is yet to be confirmed but is needed for kerosene cooking burners through out the villages)

He has had to keep $1,000 from the budget to put towards lobby hire, boat hire back to Rabi, and they have purchased fuel for the truck for distribution to all villages.
Ken said they will distribute tomorrow from as far north as Eritabeta to Buakonikai in the south.
As we know the most damage to Rabi has been in the southern villages of Tabiang and Buakonikai (opposite to what we experienced in Ami).
Ken will take photos and video tomorrow to support this and will have a full report on donation expenditure.
The biggest concern now is trying to get a Satellite phone once Ken leaves the Island Thursday or Friday. The one we hired for Ken’s mission has already cost us AUD$500 to hire and purchase 300mins of bundled air time. The phone has only been hired until this Friday. We are trying to seek options now on how to overcome this major problem. As we all know communications are expected to stay down on Rabi for weeks to come.
We would have thought that major AID organizations would have satellite phones in their emergency packs for this major aspect of any aid recovery during times of such devastation. But as we know to date no official aid packages have arrived on Rabi yet but hope this will be rectified as soon as possible. As we know from experience and misinformation supplied by DISMAC during Cyclone Ami, Red Cross aid took a month to get to the island.
The situation with Tomas is worse and of course has affected a much broader area of the Northern Division through out Fiji with reports that even aid supplies shipped to the north are now having to be rationed. This does not help our Banaban community and I’m sure our Chairman’s efforts to work with Red Cross and Fiji PM’s office will keep up the pressure to try and get assistance to our people.
Our Chairman has already stated that fuel supplies are also becoming scare in the Northern Division and Ken said together with lack of sugar this was his major concern.
Also we would like to clarify and explain to our overseas friends and sponsors. That the reason for such concerns relating to food on Rabi is the fact that the surrounding coastal waters are considered "DEAD WATER" after big storms (Cyclones) and can take up to a month for fish to return to reefs. Reports from marine experts say that damaged reefs can also take a while to recover and bring back normal fish life. While the Banabans are known through out the Pacific as expert fishermen they rely on the sea to supply them with the much needed protein in their daily diets. They will be currently making every effort in coming days to get small island outriggers repaired and back out fishing when the water is safe.

Another important aspect of Banaban life on Rabi is the fact that the community unlike their Fijian neighbours do not breed cattle on the island only a few pigs, which are mainly only slaughtered for important, island ceremonies and functions. I'm sure this resource will be quickly utilized now in this current crisis. This is why Ken has made a point of purchasing as much SALT as he could afford to try and allow the people to salt meat and fish to preserve as much food as they can for the coming very lean months ahead.
We would like to thank the international journalists that have been supporting our meagre media efforts to convey the true facts of what really is happening on the ground in Rabi. With no communication in times of crisis like this our impoverished minority community back on Rabi will be very easily and quickly FORGOTTEN. It is only through the efforts of these people behind the scenes and via cyberspace that we can get the news out there to the rest of the world.
As we all know from the experience after Cyclone Ami it took three years for international Aid to finally filter down to our people. As our Chairman has stated, the Island has never really recovered from Ami and went on over the years to suffer from more continued damage from every other cyclone that came there way. You could say a virtual 'Cyclone Alley' exists in this remote northern area of Fiji.
These continued onslaughts from tropical cyclones and no assistance from the major contributors to placing the Banabans on Rabi in Fiji to start with: United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Japan governments only highlights the reality that the Banabans have not just been FORGOTTEN but left to die and fade away slowly from ongoing attrition and neglect. As Ken has often stated when asked about his people being exiled and displaced to a lovely island like Rabi he quickly states, ‘Rabi was always seen by the Colonial powers as our graveyard and nothing more!’, and from what we have seen over the past generations, Ken’s statement has become much more of a reality than any of us could have imagined.
The reality is the Banabans are a minority and impoverish community split between two Pacific nations that have enough of their own problems to content with. So the Banabans have to stand strong at all the levels of adversity that they will face now and in the future. We have to ensure that the rehabilitation of Banaba and the restoration of the homeland is all about empowering them to not only rebuild Banaba but also in the development of a crumbling island infrastructure on Rabi.
On behalf of our Banaban community we would like to thank all our supporters and especially those who put their money where their mouth was to get this first emergency shipment to Rabi. While it is only a small contribution to what is really needed, the overall morale and hope it will give to the people back in the villages is something that we cannot put a price on.
We will keep our fundraising efforts going and now we are looking towards funding emergency communications and fuel as our next priority, as well as more food and urgent provisions.

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