Chuuk Outer Islanders Plead By Radio For Food, Medicine

by Scott Radway

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News): July 24, 2002 - Over the crackling radio yesterday, Alex Sidles made his plea for help for Chuuk State's outer islands, which have been stripped of basic supplies in the wake of then-Tropical Storm Chata'an.

"We are out of medical supplies, food, [...] everything," said Sidles over the University of Guam's radio network, which connects with the outer islands of Micronesia. "We were on the edge before the storm."

The outer islands have no power or water service and are highly inaccessible, and the residents depend almost exclusively on subsistence farming and fishing. Their food stores -- already depleted by Typhoon Mitag in March -- were devastated by the recent storm, which became a typhoon by July 5, when it hit Guam.

But the needs of the main islands of Chuuk have eclipsed those of the outer islands since the storm. Chata'an's torrential rains July 2 triggered 30 landslides, killing 47 people, injuring dozens and leaving more than 1,000 homeless.

The plight of outer islanders has simply been a lower priority, said Bruce Best, who runs the radio network, called PEACE Satellite. In fact, little communication has taken place between the main islands and the outer islands since the storm.

So when Sidles heard a reporter was in the UOG radio studio, he wasted no time getting the word out. Taro patches are flooded, most of the breadfruit has been stripped from the trees and fruit that survived is being spoiled by parasites.

Sidles is on Ono Island in a northwestern island group in Chuuk, which is part of the Federated States of Micronesia and located about 620 miles southeast of Guam. About 180 people live on the island. No one was killed in the storm, but diets are poor and general health is deteriorating, Sidles said.

There are dozens of islands like Ono.

Carlotta Leon Guerrero, co-executive director of the Guam-based Ayuda Foundation, said that is why she has been working feverishly to get help to those islands. She added that it now appears help is on the way. The state government yesterday committed a boat to transport supplies to the outer islands.

Leon Guerrero said she has been trying to secure medical and food supplies through various organizations and finding local medical workers to make the 10-day trip to all the outer islands.

Her target date for the boat to disembark is July 28, depending on how long it takes to locate supplies, especially medical supplies, which are more difficult to obtain.

"The pressure is on to get the medicine here," she said. "They are starving and the food shipment will not go without the medicine."