The entire population of one of Vanuatu's biggest islands faces starvation within days, with 100pc of crops destroyed by Cyclone Pam, Unicef officials warned last night.
The island's crops have been destroyed and concern is growing for the fate of the islanders, who have just a few days of fruit and root vegetables left.
Alice Clements, a spokesperson for Unicef Pacific, based in the capital, Port Vila, said: "We have discovered that 100pc of crops in Tanna have been destroyed - this means that this is an island with no food."
Senior government officials struggled to maintain their composure at a briefing in Port Vila yesterday. Up to 80pc of the population of Tanna has been displaced and an official described the "devastation" he saw there, with trees stripped bare and looking like "skeletons". Ms Clements, one of those attending the briefing, was struck by the "very emotional" state of the senior officials.
"We have about a week to get food to these people because after that, they have no food," she said. There is also the problem of contaminated water supplies, and no power or shelter in many areas.
The UN in Vanuatu says 24 people have died and 3,300 are displaced. The UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team in Port Vila said 37 evacuation centres had been set up, but communications with outer islands were still down. More than 100,000 houses have been destroyed.
Baldwin Lonsdale, Vanuatu's president, appealed for help as the full extent of the disaster began to emerge yesterday. Mr Lonsdale had been attending a disaster conference in Japan when the cyclone - with winds of up to 200 miles an hour -struck. Speaking before he left to return to Vanuatu, he spoke of the "monster" cyclone which had "completely destroyed" parts of his country.
Vanuatu has a population of about 268,000 spread over 65 islands.
Last night Anthony Lawlor, Fine Gael TD for Kildare North. who spent two years working in the stricken island nation, told of his concerns for the people.
"I was distressed to hear the reports of the 300kmh winds from (Cyclone) Pam, which wreaked havoc on the coastal communities, whose homes and other buildings are almost all wood structures with tin roofs," he said. "I have since been in touch with Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan to push the case for effective aid to this great people."