Ambae Island Volcano - Vanuatu

In September 2017, the Manaro Voui volcano on Vanuatu’s Ambae Island erupted spewing volcanic ash and acid rain over the island’s crops and contaminating water sources. The Vanuatu Government declared a state of emergency leading to the mass evacuation of the island’s 11,000 population, including 5,220 children. Ambae islanders evacuated to the neighbouring islands of Pentecost, Maewo and Santo. The evacuation was rapid, with most people leaving their homes in the middle of the night with little to no possessions, further increasing the vulnerability of the displaced population.

The Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) was activated in October 2017 to support the immediate needs of the displaced Ambae residents. Save the Children Australia in partnership with CARE Australia and Caritas Australia/CAN DO in partnership with World Vision Australia were selected to provide emergency response support with activities focussed primarily on gender, protection and psychosocial support for the evacuated population, as well as the provision of health and education services.

Residents were allowed to return to their homes after the volcano stabilised, and many of the AHP support activities continued on Ambae Island, however in April 2018 the Manaro Voui volcano erupted once again covering the island in more ash, further damaging crops and polluting water sources. This was complicated by high winds brought about by Tropical Cyclone Hola which deposited ash across the island, further damaging crops and forcing thousands into evacuation centres. As a result, the Vanuatu Government has designed a program of permanent resettlement to the neighbouring island of Maewo.

In August 2018, in response to this second relocation process, the AHP was activated again and Save the Children in partnership with CARE were selected to help address the immediate needs of the evacuated communities as well as anticipated longer-term needs for both the evacuated population and host communities on Maewo Island.

Save the Children Australia in partnership with CARE Australia

The initial Save the Children and CARE response project focussed on child protection, health, education, gender and water, sanitation and hygiene activities. The overall objective of the project was to protect children and families evacuated from Ambae from abuse, exploitation, violence and neglect. Together, the NGOs conducted a rapid gender and protection assessment which highlighted unmet needs in relation to supporting women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.

The project distributed 350 water and sanitation kits, 800 women’s dignity kits and established 20 Child Friendly Spaces in evacuation centres on Ambae Island. The spaces provided a safe environment where children could re-engage with their education and establish a sense of normalcy. Training was provided to 28 teachers and school committee members to deliver psychosocial support activities to children in the Child Friendly Spaces. This response also involved six gender and protection monitoring assessments, the co-facilitation of 10 Gender and Protection Cluster meetings and the provision of psychosocial support to more than 100 women in five communities following their repatriation to Ambae island. An estimated 5,500 people have benefited from project activities.

The new Save the Children and CARE project is designed to support the same communities who have once again been relocated from Ambae Island. The project, which will operate until July 2019, will provide ongoing protection and psychosocial support for women and children; materials and planning support for inclusive early recovery, including food security, livelihoods and shelter; technical support to education partners and schools to ensure that disruption to children’s education is minimised; and strengthened coordination mechanisms that respond to the needs of women, children and people with disabilities and involve them in their own recovery. The project is been designed to be flexible to adapt to the evolving nature of the crisis.

Save the Children Child Friendly Spaces provide a sense of normalcy to children displaced by the volcano eruption © Save the Children Australia

Save the Children Child Friendly Spaces provide a sense of normalcy to children displaced by the volcano eruption © Save the Children Australia

Caritas Australia/CAN DO with World Vision Australia

Caritas/CAN DO and World Vision’s response project also focussed on protection, utilising the strong church networks on Ambae and surrounding islands. This project was designed to meet the immediate protection needs of approximately 5,500 people, reduce the negative consequences and potential conflict arising from the movement of Ambae communities to new islands, and build resilience to future disasters.

CAN DO’s partners, ADRA Vanuatu and the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) are providing 500 dignity kits to women and girls; training of around 170 church and community leaders to support existing social networks and women’s groups to address any emerging conflict as a result of the relocation; and specialist training to 20 facilitators help to identify safety risks for women and children, while working within local protection and safety mechanisms. Sunday and Sabbath school teachers received psychological first aid training, supporting approximately 2000 children, while community awareness campaigns targeting 5,500 people shared information on safeguarding children, with awareness messages communicated though posters, plays, music and community and household discussions.

Dignity kits distributed by CAN DO partners in Vanuatu © Caritas Australia/CAN DO

Dignity kits distributed by CAN DO partners in Vanuatu © Caritas Australia/CAN DO

Vanuatu, 2017Clare Price