Charities unite amid cyclone scam concerns

BUSINESSES and charities are rallying around communities in the South Pacific left devastated from the fury inflicted by Cyclone Pam on March 13.

The category five cyclone was believed to be one of the strongest ever experienced in the region, with devastation in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea.

It has been reported that up to 90% of Vanuatu's capital Port Vila has been seriously damaged after Cyclone Pam made a direct hit with winds of up to 250km/h.

The Bank of South Pacific donated more than $A49,000 towards relief efforts in Vanuatu, with the bank's CEO Robin Fleming saying it would assist in providing immediate relief supplies and also contribute to longer term relief operations.

"We extend our prayers to those affected, their families and communities," he said.

"As the leading bank in the south Pacific, our families extend across the ocean, and we are pleased to lend a helping hand and be part of the relief efforts to restore normalcy to Vanuatu."

ANZ Bank pledged $A70,000 to support relief efforts and offered assistance package for customers in Vanuatu impacted by Cyclone Pam.

"After closely monitoring the situation here on the ground in Vanuatu, we have activated our financial relief package as a commitment to impacted customers during this difficult time," ANZ Vanuatu CEO Charles Rickey said.

Australian Red Cross head of international programs Peter Walton said it had launched an appeal in a desperate bid to provide urgent support.

"Red Cross in Vanuatu reports that the humanitarian needs are enormous with shelter, food and water urgent priorities right now," he said.

"Evacuation centres and other safe buildings are crowded with people seeking shelter, but people are also using traditional methods of protection, sheltering in caves in Erromango Island and parts of the country.

"Red Cross continues to work closely with national and local authorities, right across Vanuatu in this huge disaster."

Oxfam Australia executive director Helen Szoke said it too had launched a "full scale appeal" to combat concerns about disease and the lack of food.

"The people of Vanuatu and their government have shown enormous strength in the aftermath of this disaster and Oxfam is committed to helping them for as long as it takes," she said.

But concerns have been raised with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) about scam social media accounts set up under the guise of collecting money for victims of the cyclone.

ACNC commissioner Susan Pascoe said the accounts used the branding of well-known Australian charities, despite not having any association with them.

"Unfortunately there are scammers prepared to take advantage of the public's generous nature," she said.

"By giving to a registered charity, people can protect themselves and their donations.

"The ACNC Charity Register provides information on almost 60,000 charities, including who the charity benefits and where the charity operates.

"We encourage anyone who wants to donate to Cyclone Pam to give to an established humanitarian charity."

By Tristan Lavalette

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