An increase in activity at Mt Garet, an active volcano on Gaua Island, Torba Province, Vanuatu forced the evacuation of over 300 people from three villages on the west coast of Gaua on 26 November 2009. The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) has maintained alert level 2 on the island, requiring evacuation of all residents living near the volcano's lava path.
Although current conditions are projected to have only minor health effects, further assessment is being conducted to determine the potential impact of the steam and ash emissions from the volcano. The risk of mudflows remains high, especially in the Waterfall area east of Mt Garet.
The most immediate health needs identified include access to clean water, good sanitation, and adequate shelter.
No casualties have been reported as of 14 December 2009
The decision to evacuate people from the western side of the island was taken on 26 November 2009. As of 4 December, nearly 400 people were evacuated from the villages on the western side of the island. The NDMO estimates that evacuees will remain in host communities for 3-4 months.
Plans are in place to evacuate an estimated 200 people living in the mudflow-prone Waterfall area to safer ground and, if necessary (only in case of alert at phase 3) the totality of the population (estimated to around 2,600 people) to Vanua Lava Island.
As of 14 December, there are sufficient health supplies on Gaua to cater to the needs of the entire island's population.
International partners and concerned governments are assisting in the continued monitoring of volcanic activity and with providing and transporting food and other supplies to the island. Concerned governments have transportation assets on standby should the need for a mass evacuation arise.
United Nations (UN) partner agencies are conducting interagency coordination meetings, with the last meeting held in Port Vila on 4 December 2009.
The WHO is in close communication with the Vanuatu Government and international partners to coordinate the provision of necessary supplies and technical support.
OCHA Situation Update 2. Gaua Island Volcanic Activity, Vanuatu, 8 December 2009
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) Pacific - Minutes of the Inter Agency Coordination Meeting on Gaua Island Volcano Situation, 4 December 2009, Port Vila
For further information please contact:
Dr Bernard Fabre-Teste
WHO Country Liaison Officer
Tel: (678) 27 683
HP: (678) 55 47 683
WHO South Pacific
Mr Steven Iddings
Tel : (679) 323 4100
Fax: (679) 323 4166
WHO Regional Office
Dr Arturo Pesigan
Tel: (632) 528 9810
Fax: (632) 528 9072