By Len Garae in Port Vila
Vanuatu is still pressing ahead with its plan to evacuate Ambae island for the second time in six months in the face of rumbling and ash-spewing from Mt Lombenden volcano.
A government delegation comprising the Director-General of the Ministry of Climate Change, Deputy Police Commissioner, Director National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Director Department of Local Authorities (DLA), Acting Director Vanuatu Meteorology and Geology Department and other officials flew to Ambae yesterday.
They consulted with the Penama Provincial Council and witnessed firsthand the impact of the ash fall over the island from the volcano.
About 11,000 people live on the island.
The mission to Ambae has followed the Council of Minister’s declaration of a state of emergency for the island in preparation of an operations plan by the government.
Deliberations with the PENAMA Provincial Council resolved to adhere to the decision of the Council of Ministers under the special circumstances of the state of emergency and the operation plan developed by government shall guide the emergency operations on Ambae.
“This will entail the preparation and implementation of the on island relocation of affected communities to safe zones in phase one, preparation and implementation of off-island relocation to selected sites in phase two and finally phase three will look at permanent sites acquired and properly serviced for permanent settlement,” the Director-General said.
He also assured the victims that relief assistance would be provided to ensure water and food is distributed to the displaced.
Director-General Benjamin said: “Learning from the lessons of the previous relocation of the population, this time we are doing our level best to ensure evacuees are well looked after and that the whole operation runs as smooth as possible.
“We will not move to phase two until the off-island sites are assessed and resourced to cater for the displaced. The Council of Minister’s has spoken and we intend to deliver accordingly.”
RVS Tukoro has arrived on Ambae with assessment teams and relief items to support and progress phase one of the operations plan while the chiefs of Ambae, Maewo and Pentecost are expected to be mobilised in the next few days to finalise the off-island relocation sites before phase two is triggered.
The Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs has also been requested through the Ministry of Internal Affairs to consult with the Sanma support the efforts of the Government and all members gave assurances that they will consult with Tapumele Council of Chiefs this week to identify off-island sites on the island of Santo.
The Vanuatu Council of Churches was also formally approached earlier this week to stand with the government to assist.
Visits by the delegation to impacted areas in North Ambae clearly reflect the urgency to act. The NDMO, under the oversight of the National Disaster Committee will work towards completion of phase two of the Operations Plan by May 15.
A special taskforce led by the Office of the Prime Minister will then facilitate all necessary activities under phase three to permanently host the displaced.
Len Garae is a senior Vanuatu Daily Post journalist. This article is republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.