Supplies of food shrinking in FSM

by Scott Radway

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News): March 20, 2002 - One person has died in the outer islands of the Federated States of Micronesia after a typhoon tore through the area earlier this month and left food supplies nearly nonexistent, officials reported.

Officials from outer islands in Chuuk and Yap states reported over a University of Guam radio network yesterday that Typhoon Mitag nearly destroyed all of their banana and breadfruit stock, and filled their taro patches with saltwater.

Ritis Heldart of the FSM Consulate on Guam said that, along with fish, taro, breadfruit and banana make up the bulk of outer islanders' diets.

Without those staples, their health is compromised, he said.

Outer islanders are also suffering from the weather effects of El Niņo, which has created a severe dry season and a lack of drinking water on many islands, Heldart added.

As PEACE Satellite outreach program manager Bruce Best contacted one island after another yesterday morning to survey their conditions, almost all reported a lack of food and outbreaks of flu and diarrhea.

"Their health is breaking down," said Shannon Murphy, an Ayuda Foundation co-executive director, who is helping coordinate relief efforts.

The sole reported death came from illness after the typhoon, and occurred in the Nomwim Atoll in Chuuk State. There were no reported injuries from the typhoon's initial impact, Best said.

Some island officials said they had enough food to last two weeks, some enough for only one week. Island officials asked for both food and medical supplies.

"From meal to meal, it is up in the air what they will have to eat," Arpy Saunders, a teacher on Ono Island in Chuuk, said over the radio. "I don't know how long they will last. Maybe within a week all the food will be gone."

Both the Ayuda Foundation and the FSM Consulate have taken the lead role in gathering supplies for the affected islands.

A major hurdle in getting the island supplies is transportation.

Chuuk State officials said they do not have the money for fuel to send supply ships to the islands, Heldart said.

Yap is seeking help from the U.S. government.

Murphy said the U.S. military has been receptive to lending its help in transporting the supplies.

But yesterday, local officials first attempted to take a survey of the outer islands' plight.

"It is urgent," said Heldart after completing the interviews inside the PEACE Satellite station on the university campus.

"We need immediate action."