Ambae Island is home to 11,000 people, and for the second time in six months Manaro volcano on top of Mount Lombenben has started rumbling, spewing torrents of ash, gas and rocks from its crater. The debris is causing breathing and health problems, and threatening livelihoods by burying vegetable plots and crops.
The government has declared a three-month state of emergency while it works with non-governmental organisations to safely evacuate the island and secure new homes for displaced islanders who may never be able to return.
Due to eruption activity the cone of the volcano had widened, resulting in ash fall, gas, and acid rain, as well as a heightened risk of landslides and flash floods.
Olivia Finau from the Vanuatu Red Cross said there was a likelihood it would remain active for some time, forcing the government to plan for the permanent relocation of Ambae Islanders to nearby Islands.
Some neighbouring chiefs had already made offers of land suitable for relocation to the government.
Southern parts of Ambae Island were worst hit by ash fall, and Unicef workers on the ground reported people with asthma or other respiratory problems were having difficulty breathing.
“It is really challenging for the affected community, it is their home and all they know, they’ve been there for their entire life,” said Uncief Pacific’s chief of communications Cate Heinrich, adding that there were more than 5000 children on Ambae.
“At the moment our priority is helping women and children who have been affected, making sure children have safe spaces and helping them begin to process and understand what is happening to their home.”
Many water sources have been contaminated by ash, with water needing to be trucked in or purified using tablets.
Some schools were closed, and there was a sense of limbo as locals waited for the government to establish a time-line for the evacuation.
- PNC sources