Fallen trees to new homes for the people of Tanna Island


Christopher Nipo and his young family are slowly rebuilding after having suffered the wrath of Tropical Cyclone Pam in March 2015. They lost all their belongings when their home was blown away during the Cyclone, followed by a fire months later to their bush (outdoor) kitchen, which stored cement and the thatched roof for a new home.

The island of Tanna, home to 32,000 people, was one of the worst affected by Cyclone Pam. Months on, people are still rebuilding. Camp Shining Light, non-governmental organization, in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Local Authorities (DLA), is converting the huge number of fallen trees into much needed timber to rebuild homes, schools and community halls. Areas of focus include Middlebush, White Sands, West Tanna, Lenakel inland and North Tanna. To date, the mill has operated in Lownamilo, Lapaclua, Lowkatai, Lamkail, Lawkatai, Ituga and Lowsula. In addition, Tafea College also received timber to assist with rebuilding the College’s damaged buildings.

The sawmill operations is a component of UNDP’s Waste Management and Livelihood Recovery
Initiative under the Cyclone Pam Recovery and Resilience in Vanuatu project. As part of this initiative, UNDP is partnering with the DLA and other line government ministries to strengthen its recovery efforts to rebuild the livelihoods of rural communities affected by the Cyclone. In Tanna, community members are being trained in waste management, how to operate the mill and safety procedures, identifying usable waste and salvage the timber into usable material. The initiative also creates awareness against burning the fallen trees, a common practice in Tanna.

In May, Peter Moran, Team Leader of the Camp Shining Light sawmill operations and his wife, Ali left their home near Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia to join the recovery programme. In partnership with GCBC Australia, they purchased a Warrior 8 inch Auto Swing Blade sawmill and air freighted it to Vanuatu in support of Camp Shining Lights Sawmilling for Recovery Programme. In record time, the mill was set up within a day of arrival on 19 June and ready for operation. Four days later, a smaller push Swing Blade sawmill M6, purchased by Camp Shining Light, was set and ready for milling.

The sawmill operations in Tanna has not only focused on providing building timber to the communities in need but also cut and distributed two hundred cutting boards, 150 chairs, 35 table tops, 30 washing boards, four fish cleaning tables and a mountain of fire wood.

Tanna has an abundance of soft, medium and hardwoods, which are grown naturally. Trees that have been milled to date were salvaged after being blown down during Cyclone Pam and include (an intermix of Bislama language and common English names): hardwoods red/pink (Nafa, Natufua, Duai, Natuan, Ningat, Nimalben, Cedar); hardwoods white/brown (Nikyaben, Nikpat, Nisiap, Canoe tree) and soft/medium woods (Mango or Namiawul; white wood or Namiawul).

Speaking in the local dialect Bislama, Mr. Nipo said he was grateful to receive enough timber to rebuild the family home that he is building himself.

“We try to have as many in the community involved as possible in an attempt to foster ownership in the programme,” said Mr. Moran. “Numbers of people involved range from a minimum of three for sawmill operation up to eight people if virgin bush track cutting is required. Numbers can and do include women and ratios vary from village to village.”

According to Mr. Moran, all the clearing to date has been by hand using bush knives by the local community and assisted by chainsaws to allow the setup of the sawmill or to access fallen trees. Along with four men, sometimes in a single day, they can cut approximately 400 meters of track through virgin thick scrub, large enough to drive a pickup through.

The task of having to clear and operate in some of the communities has had its own challenges, which has meant that the team is constantly planning ahead. From logistical issues in relation to reliable fuel supplies, food, spare parts and the assistance from the communities, to the unpredictable weather patterns. There are also smaller villages that have been cut off from vehicle access since Cyclone Pam, which the team is clearing by hand and chainsaw during their “spare time”.

To date, over 868 cubic meters of sawn timber, fire wood and bush furniture have been produced in seven locations. This is more than double the original estimate of 400 cubic meters of timber to be cut within three months.

UNDP’s Waste Management and Livelihoods Recovery Initiative in Vanuatu has two components: debris clearance and waste management in urban areas, and livelihood restoration in rural areas. In addition to this collaboration between UNDP and the DLA, the Russian Government has provided additional funding of US$500,000 to the Project to continue its Tropical Cyclone Pam Recovery and Resilience activities in Vanuatu. Part of this funding will be used to expand the sawmilling operations in Vanuatu.


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