UNITED NATIONS—Ambassadors from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) met here today to discuss Vanuatu’s recovery efforts after Cyclone Pam destroyed some 90 percent of the island nations housing stock and killed at least 24 people.

The island nation leaders, including those from Kiribati and Tuvalu, which were also impacted by the outer edges of the storm, expressed condolences for the unprecedented losses and vowed to work with the international community to ensure a robust response.

“Disasters drive home the point, in a very real way, that SIDS are affected by disasters very differently than other countries,” said Ahmed Sareer, Maldives Ambassador to the U.N. and Chair of AOSIS. “Disasters in SIDS are not localized to the point where it strikes, our whole country is affected. Developmental gains achieved over many years, through tremendous effort and investment, are lost within minutes. Livelihoods destroyed. Lives lost. And this is made more alarming by reports that indicate that up to 70% of disasters may now be climate-related, and that human induced climate change has resulted in an increase in intensity and frequency of disasters. “

Odo Tevi, Vanuatu’s U.N. Ambassador, whose country was struck directly by the record-breaking storm, recounted the horror experienced by his people and said while assessments are still being conducted, the following basic services have been interrupted on main and outer islands:

  • Some 64 percent of total population was affected; 32 percent are children.
  •  A third of the total population is still in need of shelter; others are still in need of food and water.
  • Food sources have been damaged across all impacted islands.
  • The death toll is low, but the humanitarian challenge is enormous.

Finally, Tuvalu’s U.N. Ambassador, Aunese Makoi Simati, sent a letter to ECOSOC, highlighting the impact Cyclone Pam has had on sustainable development efforts.

“This is the very kind of vulnerability that Tuvalu have consistently requested the Committee for Development Policy and the ECOSOC members to take into serious consideration when they assess Tuvalu’s graduation from the list of the least developed countries (LDCs),” he writes. “Even with the eye of the storm centered in Vanuatu, it takes only the periphery of TC Pam to destroy developments which have taken many years to establish in Tuvalu; thus further reaffirming our high vulnerabilities as a small low lying atoll country, to natural disaster and the inadvertent forces of nature.”

Many AOSIS countries lie in the path of tropical cyclones and hurricanes and scientists have forecast that the storms will become more severe and destructive as a result of warming ocean waters due to climate change.