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Media Type: News / Op - Ed
Date of Publication: January 7, 2020
Year of Publication: 2020
Author(s): Maria Gallucci
With waters rising around them, Pacific Islanders are marrying Space Age technology with ancestral wisdom.
The state of Yap is scattered across the Pacific Ocean, its coral atolls and volcanic islands spanning some 600 miles. Home to 11,000 people, Yap, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, hovers just north of the equator, roughly 1,000 miles east of the Philippines.
Last summer, the state’s health authorities found themselves in a bind. Dengue fever, a painful mosquito-borne disease, was spreading on the main island, and clinics on outer islands urgently needed preventative medical supplies. But Yap’s main means of transportation, a diesel-burning cargo ship, wasn’t working.
ortunately, there was a backup plan. In early September, hospital staff loaded packages onto two 50-foot, double-hulled sailing canoes, called vaka motus. Ten sailors then zipped between Yap’s islands, hoisting sails and using wooden paddles, ducking into aquamarine lagoons when storms raged. Small engines burning coconut oil gave an extra boost, while solar panels replenished batteries to charge communications equipment. Within two weeks, they’d dropped medical supplies to more than a dozen far-flung islands.
“It was the perfect way to do it,” said Peia Patai, a vaka captain who led the operation. Although the dengue outbreak still persists in Yap and other Pacific Islands, health officials said the vakas helped close an urgent transportation gap.
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