Severe Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold tore across the northern islands of Vanuatu with torrential rain and sustained winds up to 270km per hour. It took lives, destroyed houses, food gardens, businesses and infrastructure, leaving enduring scars on families, communities and the nation. This time, the path to recovery will be much harder to navigate. COVID-19 is not just a complicating factor, nor a separate threat to be dealt with. It means we face a compound disaster that is unique in the way it is still unravelling, with no clear trajectory or end in sight.
The compound nature of TC Harold and COVID-19 intensifies the scale and broadens the scope of the human, social, economic and environmental impacts. Swift lockdown of international borders provided a precious window to prepare on the health side, but restrictions crippled the economy and hindered the humanitarian response. Competing pressures also exist from managing other events, including the Tanna volcano ash fall and acid rain, Teouma flooding, drought and the ongoing Ambae volcano recovery. Ever looming is the prospect of future disasters. The enormity of events and the challenge ahead has the potential to considerably change the social contract between people and government.