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By Len Garae

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, May 15) – It is going to be interesting to see how fast the Vanuatu Government will react to the emergency situation as soon as they receive a report from the Disaster Committee in Ambrym of the constant ash fall from the erupting twin Benbow and Marum Volcanoes.

[PIR editor’s note: Ambrym is an island located in the east region of Malampa Province in central Vanuatu. Volcanoes on the nearby island of Lopevi – to the south – has caused heavy ash fall, and according to a related story in the Vanuatu Daily Post, the National Disaster Management Office has yet to grade the magnitude of the eruption.]

A committee is currently meeting in Utas Village to send a report on the impact of the ash fall to the National Disaster Management Office in Port Vila. Chief Charlie Tungkon at Utas Village in South East Ambrym said villagers in South East Ambrym are suffering from constant ash fall after the volcanoes started spewing black ash into the air on May 1.

Villages affected are Taveak, Moru, Sahout, Behel, Sai, Maat, Utlas, Tanafo and the Apsetu Area, which has 14 villages. To give an idea of how far his Utas Village is from the volcanoes, the chief said the volcanoes are located as far as Ohlen in Port Vila while Utas Village is located as far as Emua Village in North Efate.

Tungkon said after reaching the telephone yesterday morning that his legs are covered in ash and "everyone has to wear a hat or head cover" to stop the ash from falling on their heads. The ash he added is also irritating as it makes victims scratch their skin.

Asked if the villagers do hear the noise of the eruptions, the chief replied, "Yes and my house, which has corrugated iron roofing, feels as if it is raining constantly with the noise of the ash fall all night long. Now we have not gone to the gardens yet after nine o’clock in the morning as the ash fall is thick. We cannot see Paama and Lopevi while I am talking to you because the air is cloudy with ash."

Their wells of drinking water are contaminated even though they are covered because he said the ash is airborne and is carried by the wind.

"Our cabbage and legumes have already been ruined while our manioc, bananas and coconut trees are the next to go", the chief said.

A telephone call to Paama also confirmed the same impact of ash fall on their island.

[PIR editor’s note: Paama is a small island south of Ambrym island.]

"We are waiting for you to send us some island cabbage," a mother told her daughter who lives in Port Vila.

Asked what is the first form of assistance the people in Ambrym and Paama want, she replied, "Water, especially as the children are at home for their holidays and they need clean drinking water."

Donald Manses from the National Disaster Office confirmed they are aware of the ash fall in Ambrym. "There is a Disaster Committee on the ground and we are waiting for their report to arrive by plane so that we can present it to the Government to seek assistance," Manses said.

But Chief Tungkon insisted they have been sending reports to the Government in similar emergency situations in the past but for some unknown reasons, the Government has not responded.

The Government was heavily criticized last year for moving quickly to help relocate some five thousand Ambaeans during the Manaro eruption. [See related story]

May 17, 2006

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