The threat level of the Manaro Voui volcano on Ambae Island is now categorized as “minor eruption”, and has therefore increased from volcanic alert level two to level three.
The Government of Vanuatu’s Council of Ministers (COM) reinstated the State of Emergency on Ambae for two months – 26 July to 26 September 2018 - and ordered the immediate compulsory evacuation of all people in Ambae to nearby Maewo island.
UNICEF is adjusting its humanitarian strategy in light of the COM’s evacuation decision, and is currently prioritizing use of emergency funding for activities on Maewo Island. UNICEF is also providing support to Government ministries and clusters to adjust their respective sectoral response plans, and to also address needs of host communities and schools on Maewo Island.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
Manaro Voui Volcano on Ambae Island in Vanuatu has been erupting since September 2017, but volcanic activity recently escalated, with the volcano spewing thick volcanic ash that blanketed almost the entire island. On 25 July 2018, the ash was so thick that it completely blocked the midday sun, and ash fall was recorded on the neighbouring islands of Maewo and Pentecost.
With the increase in volcanic activity, the Vanuatu Metereology and Geohazard Department (VMGD) increased the volcano alert level from 2 to 3, indicating minor eruption, and expanded the danger zone to 3 kilometres around volcanic vents and areas inside a yellow zone. The risk of Ambae Island volcanic activity escalating to level 4 or moderate eruption is considered moderate to low, but the VMGD has warned of the possibility of flank eruptions and/or lateral volcanic blasts. The increased volcanic alert level led the Vanuatu Council of Ministers (COM) to reinstate a state of emergency for Ambae Island for two months, from 26 July–26 September 2018; it had previously expired on 13 July 2018.
The COM also called for the immediate and compulsory evacuation of all Ambae Island residents to Maewo Island.
Evacuations under the previous Government directive had been voluntary, however the COM has now instructed that all investment on Ambae Island cease immediately and that all emergency funding focus on evacuation and resettlement to Maewo Island. The Government is invoking force majeure as a justification for its suspension of all contracts and work on Ambae Island. The COM has also clearly indicated that families that relocate to other areas independently, including to Luganville, as opposed to through official Government evacuation processes to designated sites are expected to self-fund the move and no Government aid will be provided to them. However, the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), has allowed people with disabilities and those with special medical needs to be relocated to either Port Vila or Luganville, where services and facilities are available to meet their special needs.
This latest ash fall was the worst on Ambae Island since the increase in volcanic activity began in September 2017 and further damaged houses and vegetation particularly on southern portions of the Island where ash fall accumulations were highest. More than 1,000 evacuees had assembled at ten in-island evacuation sites (four in east, four in west and two in north-east) as of the end of the reporting period with food and water cited as priority needs.
Provincial authorities evacuated at least 200 residents to safer areas on Ambae Island and 30 others to Maewo Island. Many families from the most severely-affected areas of Ambae Island, including teachers and students, had moved voluntarily to Santo Island, where Vanuatu’s second largest city of Luganville is located. Government estimates that some 1,1100 people have moved from Ambae to Santo and around 2,000 families remain. All primary schools and early childhood care and education (ECCE) centres in Ambae Island have been closed since 23 July 2018.