Following, the Government of Vanuatu’s declaration of a threemonth state of emergency on Ambae Island from 13 April to 13 July, the entire population of the Island is set to be permanently relocated.
By 15 May, it is expected that the registration of all Ambae residents by the Civil Registry and Vital Statistics Office will be completed.
Four permanent relocation sites have been identified in the nearby island of Maewo, where 19 communities have agreed to host 3,000 Ambae evacuees as they relocate to new settlement sites.
The Government has announced budget needs for its response, which include US$93 million for Ambae, and US$5 million for the Tropical Cyclone (TC) Hola Response.
To date, UNICEF is providing 14 additional recreation kits that can benefit at least 1,260 children to support psychosocial activities in schools and temporary learning spaces (TLS).
Situation in Numbers
# of affected children
# of affected people
Source: estimate from 2016 census figures
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
After weeks of minor eruptions that blanketed parts of Ambae Island with ash, the Manaro volcanic activity has decreased with reduced ashfall experienced over the last two weeks. The ash has, however, increased the risk of landslides, two of which were triggered by heavy rain and destroyed all houses in the two communities.
Residents in the most ash-affected communities have been evacuated to designated safe zones. Some 112 families (469 persons) from southern Ambae have sought refuge in 10 host communities in the east, whilst 757 families (3,055 persons) from the northern communities are temporarily sheltering in Saint Patrick’s College and Torgil Training Center in the northeast1. An undetermined number have voluntarily relocated to Santo, Efate and other nearby islands.
Of the evacuees in the Northeast, 140 are children under five, four are persons with disabilities and three require special medical attention. Nine hundred students from the north and south were relocated together with their 50 teachers.
The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) assessment team noted limited access to sanitation facilities in evacuation centres, with 50 people sharing one toilet. To date, there have been no diarrhoea or disease outbreaks recorded by health colleagues, and two major health facilities are still operating on Ambae; mobile emergency health teams continue to support displaced people and those in high risk locations.
Access to safe water on the island has been difficult, even prior to the recent ash fall. The western part of Ambae traditionally faces an intense dry season between July and November, with little potable groundwater and no surface water. In several locations there is a heavy reliance on rainwater harvesting, a practice compromised by the ash, which has settled on the roofs and guttering used to collect rainwater. Recent water quality testing in four of 11 samples (36%) in the island indicate notably high (> 1.5 mg/L) fluoride concentrations, which exceeds recommendations for children over a long period. However, given the geology of Vanuatu’s islands, this is common in groundwater supplies and is largely unrelated to the current volcanic activity. Twenty-two of 45 recent samples (49%) have also shown one or more elements of aluminium, iron, manganese and zinc at elevated concentrations. Although not considered a significant health risk, these elements discolour and change the taste of water. The unaffected water source is ground water, which is accessed through two boreholes, one in the south-east and the other in the north-west of the island. Daily water trucking is being done from these two sources to the affected communities, however, road conditions and the distances involved are limiting the deliveries.