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Thousands wait for relief in Vanuatu as death toll inches up

The death toll in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu continues to rise a week after Cyclone Pam devastated the region, the UN says. Many of the people affected by the cyclone remain in dire need of water and food.

In its latest report on the disaster, the United Nations on Friday raised the number of confirmed deaths to 13.

The dead include seven people from Tafea and six from Shefa Province.

The UN said priority needs across the sprawling archipelago were for potable water, food, shelter and medical aid.

Thousands of people left homeless by the storm remain in shelters across Vanuatu, waiting for relief and longing for a return to normalcy.

Aid groups have been battling logistical challenges

in assessing the extent of the damage, with a lack of landing strips and deep water ports hampering their efforts.

A state of emergency was declared after the Pacific island nation was hit by a cyclone

A state of emergency was declared after the Pacific island nation was hit by a cyclone

International aid

In the meantime, Australian and French troops have arrived on the South Pacific nation's hard-hit island of Tanna, where residents were still waiting for help after villages were flattened by Cyclone Pam's 270 kilometer per hour (168 mile per hour) per hour winds last Saturday.

The UN said assessments had been completed for 15 islands in the 80-island nation and Vanuatu's government warned that food will run out in the largely subsistence economy within days.

The country's agriculture minister, David Tosul, warned that the country needed rice, biscuits, seeds, tinned protein and cash.

Risk of disease

However,

drinkable water remains Vanuatu's major worry

.

"We are hearing reports that children are contracting waterborne diseases and the longer these children have to drink contaminated water, the more likely it is they become sick," said Tom Skirrow, the regional head of the charity Save the Children.

Vanuatu's government has authorized the distribution of emergency food and water supplies but is still waiting to finish its damage assessment report before beginning a wider distribution of relief items.

"Some relief supplies have been starting to get there anyway, but the more organized and the larger relief efforts will start on Saturday," said Osnat Lubrani, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Vanuatu.

According to the UN, China has offered tents, food, generators and other supplies while Japan and Singapore have also mobilized support.

The Oceanian island nation needs at least $2 million (1.87 million euros) in financial aid to buy supplies and ship them to the worst-hit islands. The government has asked for donations of food to help keep islanders fed through June, when newly-planted crops will be ready.

Cyclone Pam destroyed many of Vanuatu's local crops, such as manioc, tapioca and taro, causing food prices to rise rapidly.

jil/tj (AFP, AP, dpa)

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