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By Tony Ligo

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Port Villa Presse, June 1) - Acid rain continues to fall in west Ambrym Island in Vanuatu, even after ash from the island’s volcano has stopped falling.

The need for new water sources to be found or created is now a priority, according to the provincial secretary general.

[Abrym Island, north of Vanuatu’s main island of Efete, contains the country’s biggest active volcano. The latest eruption began in 1996 and is still in progress.]

The Vanuatu government, through the department of Rural Water Supply, agreed to provide a drilling rig to the Malampa provincial government to commence bore hole digs on west Ambrym as soon as possible.

"We now await the department of Rural Water Supply to transport the rig to Malampa and we take over from here," said provincial secretary general Lambert Maltok last week.

In March, the National Disaster Management Office presented an assessment report detailing the extent of damage and proposed action plans from technical views by the health, agriculture and scientific perspective. Priority areas highlighted in the report were water and food alongside a number of humanitarian priorities such as the need for the government to stamp the western part of the island as a disaster zone.

While reports from different government departments, such as health or agriculture, may help assess the situation on the ground, scientific analysis and assessment gives a more precise picture and plays an important role in determining how humanitarian aid should be organized effectively.

"Without a scientific or technical data and assessment the government nor the departments responsible would be able to respond and we need to get more young people studying in this area," stressed Esau.

Vanuatu only has one volcanologist with enough background to give accurate data on current activity on Ambrym.

"Today, we only have Charley Douglas; we need to train more people in the area of geo-hazards, as Vanuatu is a volcanic hot bed," stressed Esau.

In Ambrym's case there was need to have someone on site full-time to determine activity over a period and draw analysis.

Aid and food has been sent to affected areas on the western coast of the island. Through Malampa province several action plans are in progress. Already three trips of boat loads of local food were supplied to west Ambrym by communities on Paama, south Malekula, south east Malekula, south west Malekula, north Ambrym and south east Ambrym. Outside help through the French navy early this year, the national government, and other provinces pledged help and food but this is still in the process.

"We will continue to coordinate food relief for sometime to come yet," explained Malampa secretary general Lambert Maltok, "until people in the affected areas could harvest good quality crops and able to survive on their own crops."

A committee formed by Ambrym islanders to help raise funds toward the disaster in Ambrym was formed and currently working with the support of islanders living in the capital.

Another development is a contingency evacuation plan and procedures for resettling people should this be necessary in the future.

"We are in continuous negotiation with land owners along the southeastern coast of Malekula, which agreed to house evacuees should the need come," explained Maltok.

The province also requested the national government to annul all school fee on the islands western coast due to the disaster. While aid relief was rallied on all sides for the islanders, the national disaster management praised the people of Ambrym for not depending on hand outs.

"Even the agriculture experts could not really assist farmers and villagers in the devastated areas because methods applied to other islands affected by acid rain and volcanic ash fall out were not applicable on Ambrym," said the NDMO boss.

"Luckily the people have a lot of traditional knowledge which helped sustain and kept them alive over the past 12 months," he added.

The idea to bring out traditional knowledge of dealing with disasters was to be brought up for more discussion and consideration during coming disaster regional managers meeting in Madang PNG work plan.

Health issues were raised regarding hygiene, respiratory problems, asthma, and malnutrition over the past couple of months. The Independent was alerted to another concern for particular health problems particularly among children, fluoride and bone disease -- problems with children mostly.

Apart from outside aid, the national government and provincial authorities, non-government organizations and local communities and individuals on the island continue to help.

June 2, 2005

Port Vila Presse:


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