At the heart of the Ambae volcano emergency response

Vanuatu is ranked number one according to the World Risk Index making it the country with the highest likelihood of a disaster in the world.

Vika Waradi
10 year old Castro from Vuigalato Village in Ambae chats with some of his friends at an early childhood space at an evacuation centre in Santo.
UNICEF/2017/Olul
22 March 2018

Vanuatu is ranked number one according to the World Risk Index making it the country with the highest likelihood of a disaster in the world. As a small Pacific island nation with a population of approximately 280,000 people, this puts almost 95,000 of Ni-Vanuatu people at risk from natural disasters every year[1]. The events of September 2017 will go down in Vanuatu’s history as being a month to remember, especially for the people of Ambae Island, in Penama Province.

For the first time in history, increasing volcanic activity from the Manaro Volcano on the island of Ambae was significant enough for the government to trigger a state of emergency. As a result, the entire population of an estimated 11,600 people, including some 5,220 children, had to be immediately evacuated to nearby islands of Santo, Pentecost and Maewo.

Rebecca Olul, Communication Officer, met with a group of children at one of the evacuation centres on Santo. Among them were 10 year old Castro and 13 year old Lian.

Picture drawn by 10 year old Castro from Ambae who talked about seeing and hearing the volcano, and having to leave his chicken, cat and house behind to get on a ship to Santo.
UNICEF/2017/Olul
Picture drawn by 10 year old Castro from Ambae who talked about seeing and hearing the volcano, and having to leave his chicken, cat and house behind to get on a ship to Santo.

Young Castro is from Vuigalato Village in Ambae. “We saw and heard the volcano on the island puffing out smoke and ash,” said Castro, as he held out his drawing explaining the events that led to the evacuation of his island. “We had to leave my chicken, cat and house behind to get on a ship to get away from Manaro.” He spoke of how the ship brought his family safely to Santo.

“Lian’s little story about my volcano” is a short story written by 13 year old Lian from Natakaro, West Ambae.
UNICEF/2017/ Olul
“Lian’s little story about my volcano” is a short story written by 13 year old Lian from Natakaro, West Ambae.

Thirteen year old Lian from Natakaro in West Ambae is a Grade Six student at Aotabulu School. She shared her story that is aptly titled, “Little Lian’s story about her volcano.”

During the volcano eruption we were very afraid. During the night we saw the reflection of the watery fire inside the volcano’s big hole. We were very, very afraid of that because it was my first time to see the volcano erupting. Many people were worried and crying for their animals when they arrived here in Santo Island. But even now the volcano still throws the dust and sand off the volcano.

Amongst the stories from the communities affected by Ambae is a common theme — the resilience and strength of its people and of the nation of Vanuatu. While the aim to get everyone off the island for their own safety was deemed a success, the relocation of 11,600 people to its neighbouring islands– was not without its own set of challenges. One challenge in particular was the need for psychosocial support to affected communities, especially children.

Significant events, including emergencies and natural disasters, can impact children’s psychosocial well-being and can have immediate and long-term consequences for children, families and communities.

(L-R) Leinasu Abel, Admin Officer and Lucie Molgos, Acting Director for Civil Registry, with UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Joemela Simeon, for the handing over of the 7m fibreglass boat in Port Vila on Wednesday 11 October
UNICEF Pacific/2017/Waradi
(L-R) Leinasu Abel, Admin Officer and Lucie Molgos, Acting Director for Civil Registry, with UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Joemela Simeon, for the handing over of the 7m fibreglass boat in Port Vila on Wednesday 11 October.

UNICEF and its partners supported the Government of Vanuatu to provide crucial psychosocial support for children and communities who were evacuated from Ambae. These government-led efforts included culturally and age appropriate, safe and stimulating activities, such as sports and games, to not only develop life skills and coping mechanisms, but to also support the strengthening of community resiliency by working with existing traditional support systems and networks that lie at the heart of Vanuatu’s unique culture.

UNICEF provided recreation kits for the facilitation of psychosocial support activities in Santo, Maewo and Pentecost.
UNICEF Pacific/2017/Waradi
UNICEF provided recreation kits for the facilitation of psychosocial support activities in Santo, Maewo and Pentecost.

In response to the Monaro Volcano eruption, UNICEF provided 600 immediate response water, sanitation and dignity kits, installed eight 6,000-litre water tanks and arranged for water trucks that provided access to safe water for 2,220 evacuees at seven evacuation centres in Luganville. Eight UNICEF tents were put up at the evacuation centres to serve as temporary learning spaces. UNICEF also provided 66 Early Childhood Development kits, 54 school-in-a-box kits and 1,200 storybooks in Bislama language to the Ministry of Education and Training to help ensure continuous schooling of 2,260 primary school students during their displacement as well as upon their return to Ambae Island.

UNICEF, together with relevant ministries, mobilized peer support volunteers to conduct psychosocial activities in 30 evacuation centres that reached a total of 732 children (396 boys and 336 girls) and 660 adults (387 women and 273 men). UNICEF also supported the deployment of Ministry of Health medical teams and provided nutrition supplies that were provided to evacuees along with medical services.

The teams helped re-establish regular medical services in health facilities in Ambae Island. Integrated health messages on handwashing, nutrition, immunization and psychosocial support were developed and shared via radio and SMS.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/datablog/2016/apr/25/where-is-the-riskiest-place-to-live-floods-storms