Howling dogs all that’s left in volcano island Ambae’s empty villages

Ambae village families huddle at at an evacuation centre on Santo. Image: Ben Bohane/

By Dan McGarry on Santo

Only the howling of dogs can be heard now in Ambae’s abandoned villages. The entire population has now been moved off the island.

Of those who cannot stay with friends or family, the majority have found refuge in 36 evacuation centres scattered around Luganville, Santo.

Today, Ambae’s chiefs will formally thank the people of Santo with what is informally called a “10 pigs” kastom ceremony.

Chief Douglas Ngwele from Lolobuebue informed the Daily Post that he would be departing Port Vila for Santo immediately to prepare.

The Ambae community in Port Vila is now refocusing its efforts. Originally occupied with supporting evacuees within the island of Ambae, and later with their safe and timely removal, the community now plans to put its efforts into supporting the Ambaean diaspora in Santo.

In a statement on social media, Ambae Manaro Organising Committee member Henry Vira wrote that they had “resolved to move members of its Vila-based team to Luganville tomorrow morning to assist with coordination efforts there”. He added:

Entire population moved
“We will be joining efforts with the Santo Manaro Organising Committee, which was established following declaration of the State of Emergency for Total Evacuation of Ambae island. We have moved an entire population of approximately 11,600 people from Ambae including the very young, elderly, disabled, people with ill health, etc.

“We will be working closely with the various clusters already established through NDMO, SANMA Province and Ambae leaders identified within the evacuees.

“The Ambae Manaro Organising committee in Vila will finalise its arrangements today at Sarabulu Church (Namburu) and welcomes input from any one with the heart to help. The team will reconvene at Sarabulu Church today [Wednesday] at 12 noon to finalise arrangements.”

Other committee members clarified that the majority of volunteers would be remaining in Port Vila.

“We want to identify and empower community leaders within the evacuee groups in order to make sure we get the best coordination,” said one.

The committee recognises that there are numerous people here in Port Vila who have invited friends and family to stay with them in the capital. Support and assistance will be offered to them, but the sheer weight of numbers requires that they place their emphasis on supporting the Ambae community efforts in Luganville.

The volunteers gathered at Sarabulu church in Namburu emphasised that donations and supplies are still sorely needed. Bedding, tents, tarpaulins, food and water are all still welcome. Cash donations are desirable, as they offer the most flexibility in dealing with the shifting priorities of this open-ended crisis.

The members plan to extend a formal thank you to all those who have contributed to the effort so far. Without these early actions, the response would have been much smaller — and much slower — than it was.

Dan McGarry is media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post. Asia Pacific Report republishes VDP articles with permission.

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