Vanuatu Government lifts state of emergency, ‘No repatriation plan’ in place: NDMO Director

PORT MORESBY, 29 NOVEMBER 2018 (VANUATU DAILY POST) – Although the State of Emergency (SoE) on Ambae Island in Vanuatu has been lifted, the displaced families on Maewo and Santo are not allowed to return home yet due to the uncertainty of the volcanic activity.

Whether the volcanic activity has calm down cannot be guaranteed thus the government believes it is best not to send people home to danger.

The government’s advice to people is made clear in the final resolution of the Council of Ministers (COM) meeting which was held on Tuesday this week.

“With regards to the uncertainty of volcanic activity that continues to make life unsafe on the island, the COM decided that: (a) People should stay way from the volcano on the island.

“(b) Ambae people should not go back to the island

“© Ambae people should concentrate effort on restoring livelihoods at their second home site.

“(d) Chiefs of Ambae will be held responsible for members of their communities that decided to return on their own accord.

“(e)Government services will not be moved back to Ambae since the safety of the government workers from the volcano hazard activity cannot be guaranteed.

“The government has decided not to put the lives of its workers at risk from the hazard.

“(f) Penama Provincial Headquarters is relocated to Pentecost”.

Apart from the volcano activity uncertainty, it is also still uncertain if conditions on ground after the significant ash fall are safe for human life.

The latest COM agreed to lift the SoE declaration at the same time requested immediate multi-sector assessment to be led by the National Recovery Committee (NRC) on Ambae island and at current relocation sites.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Natural Disasters (MOCC), Internal Affairs, Lands and Education were mandated to determine the next step with regards to management of the Recovery Transition Phase on Ambae taking into consideration all social, logistical and infrastructure implications.

They are instructed to report back to COM on their recommendation for a way forward.

COM endorsed for the Vanuatu Police Force to lead one of the assessment teams to conduct assessment on the restoration of telecommunication services and report back.

The Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) was mandated to improve communications to Loltong as new Penama Provincial Headquarter site.

COM approved that Vt7,8000,000 (US$689,000) will be provided from the Emergency Fund for the Loltong site assessment and another Vt11,689,000 (US$10,320) to fulfill the WASH Recovery Plan for north Pentecost.

The NRC was endorsed as the national level focal point for ongoing recovery efforts after the SoE on November 26 and the Provincial Government for provincial and area level.

COM decided that the government will continue to provide emergency food for evacuees on Maewo and Santo until December 31.

Non-Government organisations and actors will continue to assist recovery efforts based on priorities determined by the government.

Meanwhile, there is no plan in place for the repatriation of the Ambae volcano victims back to their home island, said the Director of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Abraham Nasak.

Whether current conditions on Ambae are safe for the people to return is still uncertain as Director Nasak urged evacuees to focus on restoring livelihoods in Maewo, to give more time to the Government to assess the situation.

Both Director Nasak and the Director General (DG) of the Ministry of Climate Change and Natural Disasters (MOCC), Jesse Benjamin, have conveyed that no assessment has been undertaken when the State of Emergency (SoE) was in place to determine the impacts on ground since people were banned from traveling to the island.

While the SoE declaration for two months has lapsed, the future of volcanic activity is uncertain, said Director Nasak.

“It’s impossible for our experts to predict the behavior of Lombenben. The volcano has been continuously erupting for a year now.

“We have recommend to the COM that the SoE should not be extended unless there is an increase in the volcanic activity”, he said.

Asked whether the government will provide transport for families who wish to return home, DG Benjamin replied: “the government has not taken any decision on that as it is focusing on fulfilling the second home concept”.

The COM in its latest meeting agreed to lift the SoE declaration at the same time requested immediate multi-sector assessment to be led by the National Recovery Committee (NRC) on Ambae island and at sites where the evacuees are currently residing.

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