Vanuatu sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and though it is accustomed to being hit by cyclones and volcanoes, it does not have clear guidelines or policies ready to respond to major emergencies.
Prime Minister (PM) Charlot Salwai stressed these concerns when he was briefing journalists on the government order’s for a mandatory evacuation on the entire Ambae island, following the Lombenben volano crisis.
He emphasized the need to have clear policies, to address disaster situations.
While he said that the government, through the Ministry of Climate Change and Disaster Management, is responsible to protect and save lives in emergencies, the PM admitted the country doesw not having clear plans in place to respond to specific disasters.
“We are not ready for disasters,” said PM Salwai.
“We have evacuation centers standby for cyclones that serves no purpose during volcano eruptions and tsunamis.
“In Vanuatu, many settlements are exposed to the coast. This is why we need a separate disaster plan for tsunamis.
“With seven active volcanoes, and earthquakes occurring frequently, Vanuatu is at risk.”
The PM has stressed fears about the possibility of islands in Vanuatu drowning due to the looming effects of climate change in the future.
“We must have our own national policies in place before we call for international help or while we continue to address climate change abroad, both regionally and internationally,”he said.
The PM said the government does not want to get blamed for a large scale disaster, therefore it issued the order for entire Ambae evacuation so that it could provide mass care.
“It is better to evacuate than leave lives at risk.
“The government will extend the state of emergency period if the volcano activity remains in this stage.
“The affected families from Ambae rescue to neighboring islands will remain in temporary shelters until such time the state of emergency be lifted”.
Meanwhile the Head of State, Obed Moses said the Lombenben volcano crisis must be considered a priority by the government, and every necessary efforts must be taken to move people to safety immediately, .
The Head of State is calling on all citizens to remain calm and not to interfere with relevant authorities handling the situation.
Director of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Shadrack Welegtabit, has assured that efforts are underway to evacuate people to safety and quickly out from the volcano affected island before October 6.
An order is supposed to be issued yesterday for all ships to standby on nearby shores for any request of assistance on evacuating 11,600 people to safety. Evacuation out from Ambae officially starts today (Saturday) but people are already voluntarily moving out.
According to the Director, 400 people have moved, at their own costs.
Schools, community halls and churches on neighboring islands of Pentecost, Maewo and Santo are opening up to accommodate evacuees until the government finds proper safe places and set up shelters and facilities, said Director Welegtabit.
283 final year students in schools on Ambae are given priority to be evacuated before mock examinations next week.
The Ministry of Education will waive school fees for third term this year (2017) and first term of 2018 for parents living on Ambae, according to an agency order issued yesterday.
The order, which was signed by the Minister of Climate Change and Disaster Management, Ham Lini, on the advice of the National Disaster Committee, agrees for “Government shareholders to allow a discount of 50% on air fares on all Air Vanuatu flights from Ambae Island.
“Also, all government vehicles under the possession of government on Ambae be used to evacuate people from villages”.
Meanwhile, conditions remain difficult in evacuation centers with overcrowding on Ambae. In Port Vila, business people, communities, churches,non-government organizations, international partners, including students have offered humanitarian assistance.
LC Urata and LC Mahalia were confirmed to have departed for Ambae with relief items including water, hygiene kits, kitchen kits, tarpaulins, fuel and two lorries to assist with the transportation of people to ports.