Home > Queensland Synod News > International help may be needed after Cook Island cyclone disaster

International help may be needed after Cook Island cyclone disaster

A state of emergency was declared in the Cook Islands after Tropical Cyclone Pat struck on 10 February causing heavy damage to the island of Aitutaki.

The day after winds of up to 200 kilometres (120 miles) an hour tore through the South Pacific nation, the leader of the Cook Islands Christian Church said his denomination would be at the forefront of recovery efforts.

Some Cook Island residents believe it is difficult for a tiny nation to flag international help when it is overshadowed by the massive earthquake that has claimed more than 200 000 lives in Haiti.

The President of the Cook Islands church, the Rev. Tangi Metua, told Ecumenical News International from the national capital, Rarotonga, "We will try to repair this community ourselves, but we might need the help of three or four donor churches internationally."

Yet as Metua made his comments two other tropical cyclones were threatening the island nations of Fiji, American Samoa and Tonga.

The Australian national broadcaster, ABC, reported on 16 February that the first Royal New Zealand Air Force relief flight to cyclone-battered Aitutaki had landed.

Radio New Zealand reported that 90 percent of the buildings on Aitutaki were damaged, power lost and palm trees uprooted. New Zealand Red Cross said some dislocated families were being housed in community buildings and churches.

The Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands and atolls about 2 000 kilometres (1200 miles) north-east of New Zealand and 4 700 kilometres south of Hawaii. The island of Aitutaki is one of the larger islands in the Cook group.

The Cook Island disaster has posed questions for churches in nearby nations who have been raising money for high profile and high need situations such as the Haiti earthquake.

David Hickey, a fundraising expert for the Uniting Church in Australia, said the Cook Island situation is a good example of how hard it is to raise funds for people who are devastated, but who are out of sight from the international media.

"In the Cook Islands, a community that is already poor loses its whole educational, medical and community service infrastructure. It is a devastating blow to them, but at the same time international media and aid agencies concentrate on ‘high impact tragedies’ and so it becomes very easy for the wider world to overlook the important needs of smaller, poorer communities.

"At this point," he said, "the words of a Spanish song ring true: ‘If you want to be invisible, there is no surer way than become poor’." 

(c) Ecumenical News International