A DECISION has been made by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers this morning to evacuate everyone from Ambae to the islands of Santo, Maewo and Pentecost due to the dire threat of the Manaro volcano.
The Council of Ministers met with the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and the Ministry of Climate Change this morning after lengthy meetings last night.
Speaking at a media conference this morning, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai said following the activity of the Manaro volcano which is still at alert four, and the danger and risk of it erupting, the government and the Council of Ministers have agreed for immediate action to take place.
“Every family in Ambae will be evacuated and moved to a temporary location,” he said.
“What is important today is life, as we know life is more precious, and the government needs to take an immediate decision.
“Firstly the government is looking at two places in Pentecost that are already secure, like Loltong which is already a public land and Lonorore which the government and the Ministry of lands is working on now to declare it public land following the land owner’s request.
“These are the two immediate places to move the people of Ambae to.”
He said the government has agreed with the Council of Ministers for the NDMO and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to identify the evacuation centres in Maewo, Pentecost and Santo where they can evacuate the people of Ambae.
Approximately 11,100 people, according to the 2016 mini-census, are expected to be involved in the mass evacuation.
“Another decision that we’ve made this morning is for the NDMO and the Vanuatu Police Force to facilitate the compulsory movement for the Ambae people to the evacuation centres in Maewo, Pentecost and Santo,” he said.
“We have agreed that this evacuation of the people is to happen immediately and will be completed by October 6, 2017.
“We also agreed that the Ministry of Lands and the Ministry of Internal Affairs will identify suitable land in Maewo, Santo and Pentecost for temporary centres.”
PM Salwai said they will continue to talk local authorities and the relevant chiefs about this situation.
“The Government does not stop any voluntary movement for all families but we have to make sure the NDMO must have the proper record of where the people are moving to,” he said.
“For instance, the NDMO report should consist of how many people are in a given place, who are they and how they are looked after because it’s useful information in the future.
“This a temporary decision to take seriously while we are still continuing to monitor the volcano situation.”
PM Salwai said if there is an improvement and the volcanic risk is going down then it’s possible the people could go back to Ambae.
“I understand that there is some movement already; some families have already gone to their relatives who are living on different islands,” he said.
“Following the activity of the Manaro Volcano which is still at alert 4 after a week has passed and the risk and danger associated with that, the Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency in Ambae this week.
“Followed the process of this declaration, the process is already undertaking and we are working together with the NDMO, the Ministry of Climate Change and the Provinces.
PM Salwai said the danger and the risks of the Manaro Volcano is a national issue that the government will take with every province and the authorities who exists in Vanuatu.
“A volcanic eruption is not like a cyclone and it’s hard to predict what will be happening,” he said.
“Cyclones can be predicted following signs or what will be its direction but volcano we don’t know what is happening inside it.
“Yesterday there was a new development with the Ministry of Climate Change and the Geo Hazards Department that shows the volcano has not improved but there is still chance of high risk to the population of Ambae.”
He said he understand s many people in Ambae will be concerned about their properties and their homes and communities, but they must know that it is more important to save lives than to worry about physical things.
“We are also making sure to stop people going to Ambae but move people out,” he said.
“The population of Ambae is 11,000 plus, so the two lands in Pentecost won’t be enough so we are trying to move some to Maewo.
“Vanuatu is a country close to the ‘ring of fire’ and with the other volcanoes in Ambrym and Lopevi making some activity, we are working together to develop national policy to address these natural disasters as we know Vanuatu is a victim of climate change.”
PM Salwai said he addressed this issue of climate change in a speech to the UN earlier this month.
“Many countries are coming in with the issue of wars, poverty but Vanuatu is a victim of climate change,” he said.
“A good example is the people living at Melemaat today, so it’s the responsibility for the Ministry of Climate Change to move forward and come up with more clear policies in place.”
Meanwhile the PM said the Ministry of Education is really working hard to move students, especially final year students, to Maewo, Pentecost, Santo and Malekula schools.
“These students will be continuing their studies and sit their exams.”