Gaua Volcano Site Assessment and Planning Report

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From May 21 – June 2, 2010, a multi-sectoral technical assessment team went to Gaua and Vanua Lava to review and update the March site assessment, provide detailed plans for selected evacuation and relocation sites, and to provide a quick update on the current IDP situation on Gaua.

The IDP situation is largely unchanged from what was found during the February reconnaissance mission: a lot of uncertainty regarding the volcano activity, whether IDPs can return home soon, what will happen in case of a full scale evacuation, and concerns over (food) distribution, medical care, livelihoods and school fees. A good portion of the IDPs still expect to be able to go back to their homes in the west soon and have not established themselves properly at their host communities. The uncertainty is causing psycho-social issues. Increased awareness, psycho-social support and active involvement of the Gaua population in the contingency planning process are highly recommended (as also previously indicated in the report of the inter-agency mission carried out in February 2010).

Three evacuation sites were identified previously, based on access by sea: Losalava, Lembal and Biam. People south of Lasimal River however won’t be able to reach Lembal in case of flooding; an evacuation point at Kaska has been added to cover for this. Similarly, Kuro in the south of Gaua has been added as an evacuation point, as the road from the west to Biam is very difficult and crosses a river as well, which is likely to flood during a volcanic eruption. The evacuation sites require few infrastructural inputs but First Aid training is recommended to assist in the treatment of wounded and sick people during evacuation.

Sola is the designated transitional camp site on Vanua Lava, with good access (sea and air), flat land and essential services nearby. It is not large enough to accommodate the full Gaua population in accordance with Sphere standards, but considering the short-term nature of the camp (several days max), the required camp density is considered acceptable. Evacuation should take place as rapidly as possible with all evacuees going to Sola first before moving on to their final destination. This greatly simplifies logistics, NFI distribution and registration. Evacuees will be registered first, go through a quick medical check and receive household and shelter NFIs upon arrival. Family shelters are proposed to be constructed of 2 tarpaulins and bush poles. Tarpaulins are readily available, are easier to stock, more versatile and a lot cheaper than tents. Water supply, sanitation and lighting can all be made available. The cramped camp conditions do not allow families to cook for themselves – a central cooking/food distribution facility is required.

The Anglican Church-owned land at Leon’s Bay was previously identified as a potential short-term (up to 1 year) camp site. It was found to be too small, too steep and with very poor access. An additional area adjacent to the Church’s land was offered, but suffers from the same issues. Leon’s Bay is therefore not considered as a possible camp location. Tanmat in the north-east is unsuitable for much of the same reasons: very poor access and too steep.

At Vatop a potential area for a camp was identified, though the (land) negotiations were completed uncharacteristically fast for Melanesian settings. The availability of Vatop must as yet be verified in a formal agreement. The provisional long-term camp site at Vatop is suitable for approximately 1300 people, has good access and is flat but located next to a swamp (potential environmental health risks).

Thirteen hundred people (217 families) are well below the anticipated 2000 that may require relocation on Vanua Lava. Though other sites were considered, none were found on Vanua Lava to be suitable for a (long-term) camp site. The Team therefore focused on host communities as an option for relocation.

Community hosting is recommended for a number of reasons:

  • Hosting is more culturally appropriate in Vanuatu, traditionally adopted in the past as the principal form of support to displaced families;

  • It allows family life at similar spacing density to current village arrangements;

  • Hosted families will almost certainly achieve a higher quality of life than in a camp environment, provided that appropriate support is provided to both the IDPs and the host communities;

  • Community hosting has a significantly reduced environmental impact on surrounding forest resources (especially given that each family requires a minimum of around 1 ha of land for subsistence gardening);

Discussions with various land owners and communities on Vanua Lava indicated a clear willingness to host evacuated families. Communities on Gaua, which previously had a preference towards relocation to a camp, were considerably less convinced when the realities of camp life were explained.

This report therefore strongly recommends community hosting to be adopted as the principal preferred relocation option. Details of the provisional camp site at Vatop are included in this report in case not all families can be hosted. It is regarded however as a “last-resort” option.

Lessons learned from the current IDP situation in Gaua must be addressed. This report repeats the recommendation from the February reconnaissance mission report that an agency/NGO is appointed to be accountable for the ongoing support and management of IDP and Host Communities on Gaua Island as well as planning for Host Communities on Vanua Lava and other Torba Islands.

A tour around all the communities on Vanua Lava and the outer islands is required to determine how many families can be hosted. A clear statement of how IDP and host families are to be supported must be established prior to the tour taking place. In addition, it is recommended that chiefs from Gaua meet with their counterparts on Vanua Lava and other islands to discuss and agree upon issues of law, order and ‘respect’. More active involvement of women and other groups (youth, Church) in the development of the hosting strategy is also recommended. This may be done through TAGs and CaVaWs.

Detailed recommendations arising from the assessment are provided in this report at CHAPTER 9: RECOMMENDATIONS & ACTION POINTS.