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Fiji Flooding: “The economic costs will be massive”

The sun peeked from behind the mass of clouds in parts of the Fiji island group Thursday morning, marking the first time many places had a major break in rain in more than a week. With the respite, the worst flood waters in decades have mostly subsided across Viti Levu, the country’s largest island, containing roughly two-thirds its population. On Viti Levu's western side, residents of Nadi, home of the country’s major international airport, Ba, Rakiraki, Lautoka, along with countless villages, have begun cleaning up, drying their homes out and taking stock of their damaged property, crops and infrastructure. They are also waiting for reliable power and water to return.

More rain is expected, forecasters warn, as another tropical depression is scheduled to settle onto the island group. This has increased worries of already saturated rivers and battered dams.

The death toll continues to rise. Police reported Wednesday a three-year-old boy drowned playing near a rushing river, bringing the week-long storms’ death toll to 11. An estimated 9,000 people remain displaced, often eating and sleeping in schools or community centers.

The receding waters brought a view of the extensive damage to highways, bridges and businesses. The government estimated the destruction to cost an estimated US $17 million. The mayor of Nadi, the country’s tourist center that was flooded three separate times in the previous week, told a local radio station economic damage to business and individual property could run at least $50 million. A dusk-to-dawn curfew remains in effect for the Western Division.

Financial donations have begun arriving from the governments of Australia, New Zealand, China, the United States and Tonga. Most governments decided against placing money in the hands of the country’s self-imposed military government; instead, they have donated to Fiji Red Cross of the Salvation Army.

For a good view of the floods from Nadi, Laminar Flow from Stuck in Fiji M.U.D. links to this video of last weekend's flooding in Nadi.

Here is a photo taken near the town of Nausori, where the rushing Rewa river has overtaken a bridge.

Rizwan offers a good overview of the situation on Viti Levu.

As the rain continues to fall, the damages are becoming more evident by the day. We hear of crop devastation and bridges being washed away. But the thing that really outweighs all of this is the loss of human lives. 2009 has seen eight people dead as a result of flooding and landslides and from what we've been reading and hearing in the media, two have still not been found because it is impossible to dig through the clay soil…

Based on what I've seen, read and heard, the economic costs will be massive. Power lines are down and communication is barely working. Both industries are working tirelessly to get the services restored but from what I've seen in the pictures sent to me (thanks Sham), it won't be an easy task because service crew will be unable to restore any services until the waters reside and the areas are clean from debris that may hamper the restoration. For villages situation deep within Fiji, they will be the most difficult to reach and generally they are the most needy as they have barely anything to rebuild their lives.

Rizwan feels this could have been avoided if people would have taken flash flood warnings more seriously.

The weather office has already forecast that more rain and flooding are expected. In fact, they had said this the first time around before the major flood but for some reason, no one really took notice. During the early hours of the flooding as the water swirled around the soles of people's feet, there was little to worry about. As the water rose to ankle level, some thought it would be another little flood. As time went by and the water rose from ankle level to waist level, panic ensued but by then it was far too late and the damage we now see plaguing the people in the West will have serious ramifications for some families. As I watched the scenes played out on television, I realized that people had truly under estimated this flood. How else can you explain the fact that no shop owner in the west had put up sandbags to counter the flow of water? A flood is a flood and whether the water rises only up to your ankles or not, proactive measures need to be taken to ensure that the situation does not go out of control as it seems to have done so in this case.

(Rizwan also links to pictures of the flooding in Singatoka and posted to his Facebook page. Here's more photos. Here, too. And a Fiji Flood Group 2009 Facebook page.)

In the forum Fiji Board Exiles, frequent poster real jack reports that while the capital Suva has largely escaped the damage inflicted on the other end of the island, the few flooded areas are concentrated to developments built on shaky foundations:

some developments have been done on slipping planes which would be considered CRIMINAL in Australia and New Zealand – no engineer would approve building on that type of slope – or even next to it – but here in Fiji the local council engineers and town planners have had a good time taking dollars under the table to turn a blind eye – and all the result of their shoddy work over the last twenty years is now being seen – poor subdivision planning, shoddy Environmental Impact assessments, three quarter half rate work on approvals for buildings, criminal negligence in granting approvals to buildings being constructed in places that are flood prone without adequate engineering precautions being imposed.

this is a big lesson for Fiji – noone can stop the rain – but what we had in our hands is the control of the local authorities and town councils who should have been doing their jobs – this is the net result of corruption and inefficiencies in those authorities over the last two decades.

Many bloggers and forum posters spent the week assessing the government’s work trying to expedite relief.

Raw Fiji News, a blog known for its opposition to the government of Frank Bainimarama, wrote a congratulatory piece Wednesday.

Finally, Fiji junta’s head, Frank Bainimarama, is beginning to lead from the front like a real trooper.
Good on you Frank and thank you!! About time you dig deep into the inner chambers of your heart. Yep,concentrate in attending to those in dire need in this very trying moments.

They also offer this advice:

We will acknowledge good work when we see it and again we say, great stuff to see Frank walking the talk. Might serve you well Frank if you pitch your military tent at some key evacuation centers around the West and North during your travel. Will go a long way when people see you sleep with them, eat their relief food with them, and go through their pain with them.

Ditch the 5-star resort beds and meals and provide hope to our people by mingling with them as they go through this rough patch. Oh, and ditch your labelled clothed T-suited hangers-on on this walk. Just take your good heart with you Frank and soon, all will be forgotten except your genuine concern and presence in their darkest hours.

These posts did not go unnoticed by the new site IG Fiji, which appears to be run by real-life members of the Interim Government.

We would like to thank this opportunity to thank the RFN bloggers for acknowledging the work being done by the PM and his presence at various grief stricken areas of Fiji. We missed blogging yesterday as plans were being made on how to transport some much needed relief for people this weekend. The PM is right in saying that we should not rush to start rebuilding just yet because another two depressions are on their way and they will simply bring us back to square one.

At this moment, our efforts should be concentrated on getting villagers to higher ground and providing some relief for those unable to move.

At a time of such crisis, the RFN blog site has produced a few interesting articles and we thank them for their efforts in supporting us in that manner. We also thank our readers for their comments and support shown during this time of strife – this is indeed how Fiji should be and how the world should be; coming together at a time of crisis to work as one…

However, no such kind words were saved for those running another anti-government blog, the Soli Vakasama blogsite.

The SV site has not stopped their ridiculous charade, even during such a time to come down from their perch and help as the RFN bloggers have done. They continue to sit and crow like toothless tigers being washed out to sea on a fast melting bed of ice. We eagerly await the ice to fully melt and drown the beasts. For once, we had wished that they would be understanding and it seems that only RFN are willing to work for change instead of griping like SV has been doing. We wonder if the SV bloggers have a conscience or families for that matter? We think they have neither as they have nary a thought for the victims of the recent disasters and instead have remained in their warped little world to continue to be critical of a govt. which is doing all it can in such a calamity despite all odds. This stance taken by SV shows their true colors – a group of people who have no care for the victims of the flood and instead choose to harp on about the govts. failures instead of seeing the hard work being done by the military, police and other govt. members. It is unfortunate that SV chooses to see the cup from the perspective of it being half empty – we see it as half full and will continue to be positive in our efforts.

Instead, the Soli Vakasama blog site demands the government embarks on a clean-up campaign.

If ever there was a time the interim regime could do at least ONE thing right it is now.
With all the testosterone fueled promises of a clean up campaign against perceived wide spread corruption in public services. including the judiciary, a system of governance that is characterized by stability, transparency and accountability as well as the prevalence of law, order, and peace, the Nation of Fiji is still waiting for the remarkable transformation and reality of Voreqe Bainimaramas vision.

The interim regime should direct its ‘clean up campaign’ to make a full, extensive clean up after this disaster its PRIORITY. ALL infrastructures should be repaired and completed as quickly and successfully as possible to allow everyone and everything to move on and upward.

Filipe Bole would be well advised to ensure ALL students are able to study when school resumes on January 20, 2009 and to be able to get there safely. Instead of harping on about class sizes, make education another PRIORITY and hold off school fees, especially in the regions most affected by this crisis. The $9 million funding by the EU is more than sufficient to facilitate the education of every child in Fiji. These children are our future, please pay the teachers to give them a sound education first and foremost and scrap school fees altogether. ask an economist and accountant to explain how.

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