The Government has confirmed reports of acid rain on East and West Ambae over the weekend.

“It began in the east and spread to the west,” Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Lands, Ralph Regenvanu, told Daily Post yesterday afternoon.

“In the west, it started last night and continued throughout the day. No assessment has been conducted but the government is working on it.

“We have received calls that some people in the west are moving to the coast. If they want to be relocated, the government will assist in moving them to a safe zone on the island.”

Acting PM Regenvanu visited the villages closest to the Ambae volcano on Saturday, during which he was accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Leingkone, MP Jacob Mata and Acting Climate Change DG, Antony Garae.

Food and water issues are the main challenges.

“People on Maewo are now selling garden crops to the people in the east and west,” he said.

“In West Ambae, because all the kava is being affected by acid rain, they are digging out all their kava and selling it — a full shipload was sent to Santo this week.

“It is mostly the leafy vegetables which are damaged in the gardens, not the root crops. The extent of the damage by animals which were let loose before the evacuation, varies.”

Access to water was a problem in some areas before the volcanic activity, and it has worsened in the current crisis.

“Currently, there is one borehole in the west, which the team on the ground uses as the source of water trucking to other communities,” said the Acting PM.

“The people are adjusting to the slight change in colour and smell in the water. The landscape is also changing.”

The government is aware that some people have moved to Luganville and Port Vila again – at their own costs.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Joe Natuman, is expected to be updated on the current Ambae situation, on his return from his trip abroad at the airport yesterday afternoon, when Minister Regenvanu relinquishes the responsibilities of the Acting PM.

Meanwhile, all remaining funds from the Vt200 million allocated to help the people of Ambae, and any remaining disaster emergency funds from the recurrent budget of Vt25 million will be allocated to providing emergency food and water, to assist the transition of Ambae families back to settled life.

This is part of the 14 recommendations endorsed by the National Disaster Committee (NDC), as the way forward for the situation on Ambae.

Dated November 8, 2017 the decision on the Ambae Operation Phase 3 and 4 recommended that the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department (VMGD) officially request an air quality assessment specialist, through the FRANZ agreement.

It is recommended that the provincial government, chiefs and communities assist the VMGD to conduct awareness while the Joint Planning and Operation Centre (JPOC) will use police on the island to ban people from accessing areas that are within a 3km radius from the volcano vent.

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Acid Rain on East and West Ambae

Kava plants and ferns subject to acid rain. Credit: Acting PM/Lands Minister, Ralph Regenvanu

The NDC endorsed that:

• The Food Security and Agriculture Cluster will conduct further detailed assessment on food security

• The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector will conduct regular water testing, with regards to daily changes in volcanic activity

• Awareness team to be formed from different sectors, to provide continuous awareness on different options on how to live with the volcano

• Local approach using Tanna and Ambrym people to share their experience, living with an active volcano

• The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) Communication Team will work with Radio Vanuatu and establish back up radio communication from within NDMO to Ambae communities. Text messages should also be used as means of awareness

• NDMO, the provincial government and the Department of Local Authorities will assist with the relocation of people within the 7-kilometre radius danger zone to safe areas

• NDMO and VMGD will work with the Department of Local Authorities to map the Safe Zone on the island

• Maintenance and repair costs for all vehicles used during the Ambae operation to be paid through the emergency fund.

The committee further recommended that the tents used on Santo should be made available on Ambae, to assist the implementation of relocating people within the 7-kilometre radius danger zone to safe areas.

The NDC is mandated under the National Disaster Act [CAP 267] to manage and oversee the overall coordination and management of any disasters in the country.

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