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Drought Compounds Hardship on Cyclone-hit Vanuatu

FILE - Workers repair the roof of a holiday resort days after Cyclone Pam in Port Vila, capital city of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is in the grip of a severe drought nine months after its islands were battered by a powerful cyclone.

Cyclone Pam was one of the most powerful storms the people of Vanuatu had ever seen. The category five storm caused widespread damage to buildings, roads and electricity supplies.

More than a dozen people were killed, and aid agencies believe that further casualties were only averted because of the islanders’ long history of taking shelter through extreme storms.

There was, though, significant damage to crops. Nine months later the South Pacific archipelago is facing another emergency - a severe drought triggered by the El Nino weather system. That occurs when the waters of the Pacific Ocean become unusually warm and destabilize weather patterns around the world.

In Vanuatu, local subsistence crops of fruit and vegetables have withered in the dry conditions. Many islanders are surviving on government supplies of tinned fish and rice.

Robert Vocor, a hospital medical superintendent, said the situation is dire.

“We have a lot of patients around here, especially kids and children, who have the problem with nutrition and we have a lot of malnutrition cases,” said Vocor.

On the island of Tanna, villager Anauda Johnson said his crops have been destroyed.

“Everything was destroyed during the cyclone and now with the drought, there's nothing left in the garden,” said Johnson.

International aid agencies continue to supply food, drinking water and basic shelter.

But officials say the drought across Vanuatu shows no sign of easing.

The archipelago is home to about 270,000 people and lies in the South Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Australia.