Three years after the Manaro Voui crater volcanic eruption in Ambae, Vanuatu in 2017, some Ambae families are still displaced in nearby Santo and Maewo islands with very little to return to and longing for the semblance of normality they once enjoyed.

Flashback to 2017, the Government of Vanuatu declared a State of Emergency, following the Level 4 alert issued by the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo- Hazards Department (VMG-D) monitoring Manaro Voui. A Level 4 alert indicated danger on the volcanic cone and a possibility of a very large eruption. This resulted in a mass evacuation of close to 11,000 Ambae residents.

The heavy ashfall from the volcanic eruption accompanied with rain destroyed homes, villages, disrupted livelihood and prompting mass evacuation thereafter.

Wendy Banga lived in Ambae and was evacuated to Santo in the earlier days of the Ambae volcanic activity. The 39-year-old was later relocated to Maewo island in 2019, where she and her family now live and continue their struggle to survive. 

This is her story. 

Wendy Banga in Maewo. (Photo: Mark Vaughan)

Wendy’s Story: Life After Ambae

"I returned to my village Waluweibue, North West of Ambae and found it completely destroyed. My family home and plantation were demolished, livestock and farming tools missing. I lost everything. I wasn’t settled, I kept thinking day and night how we would survive, where would we go,” said Mrs. Banga.

“I have been a farmer for 15 years and lived in Ambae for 48 years and never thought I would leave my home.”

Prior to the volcanic eruption and flashfloods, the mother of five lived a very active life tending to her plantation of bananas, bean, cucumber and pawpaw, and she kept a watchful eye over her 60 chickens, six cows and 10 goats.

Income from her farm and sales from livestock has supported her family and this was further supplemented by fish sales from her husband Andrew and four sons.

Flash floods as a result of the 2017 Volcano eruption in Ambae, brought boulder rocks through the village wiping out homes and destroying plantations. (Photo: Mark Vaughan)

"In Ambae, my boys earned VATU $1000 - $3000 per day from fish sales. I could sell a mother hen for VATU $600- $800. One rooster chicken would fetch VATU $1000- $1500. Depending on the size of the cow, cows were worth VATU $15,000 - $40,000," said Mrs. Banga.

Income in Maewo is only VATU $1000 (or US$8) per day.

“Here, we don’t have land to plant, there are no mangroves for my husband to fish.”

Apart from drastic changes to their livelihood, the family were also separated during the relocation, the Banga children are currently living with different families attending various schools on the island.

“I feel sorry for my children, when the Government says the school needs to relocate, they need to move to the school’s location. My husband and I live on our own and our children join us when it is school holidays,” added Mrs. Banga. 

Wendy and her husband, Andrew with their daughter. (Photo: Mark Vaughan)

“We went through the first eruption and witnessed families, the elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding women and those living with disabilities live in crowded churches and community halls, we saw the hardships families faced.”

The Banga family are determined to improve their living conditions, reunite their family, build back better and be prepared should another disaster strike.   

UNDP PERF Support Ambae Recovery Project

The UNDP Pacific Early Recovery Fund (PERF) is a rapid and flexible funding mechanism that focuses on early recovery efforts geared to restoring livelihoods, community assets and infrastructure for Pacific Island Countries (PICs). Through PERF, families like the Bangas will be assisted during early recovery efforts from the trainings conducted and materials produced.

The Government of Vanuatu is the first recipient of the PERF funds (US$211,000), disbursed to the Department of Strategic Policy, Planning and Aid Coordination (DSPPAC) to support Ambae evacuees in Santo. Ambae evacuees will be trained and upskilled in the sustainable processing of timber including identification, grading, processing and re-planting of timber producing trees.

Through the RESPAC Project, the PERF has also assisted the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) - and the Disaster Risk Framework (DRF) training in February 2020 and supports the Vanuatu Ministry of Water to improve access and water supply to Ambae evacuees.

Crowdfunding Campaigns to replenish PERF

Crowdfunding experts from UNDP AltFinLab in Istanbul ran a training ''Crowdfunding for early recovery response to disaster'' in Fiji, in 2018, along with disaster risk reduction and early response experts from five PICs. The training focused on securing funding through crowdfunding for rapid intervention should a disaster occur in the Pacific, as crowdfunding has proven to be an alternative way to generate funds for rapid intervention for communities affected by natural disasters.

Between December 2019 to April 2020, three Tropical Cyclones devastated the Pacific; TC Sarai in Kiribati, TC Tino in Tuvalu and TC Harold that impacted Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu. Crowdfunding campaigns are currently being developed for Tonga to replenish PERF funds that have been utilized for strengthening food security in E’ua. Crowdfunding campaigns to replenish PERF funds and further assist other countries impacted by natural disaster will follow.

“The support from the PERF will help a lot of families like ours rebuild and recover from a disaster, we want to return to Ambae, but we know building back better is important should another disaster strike,” added Mrs. Banga.

Around 3,000 families and evacuees from Ambae will benefit from the UNDP Pacific Early Recovery Fund.

Training in the sustainable processing of timber logs carried out in Santo for Ambae Evacuees, with the Mobile Sawmill donated to the DSPPAC and officially handed over to the Department of Forestry. (Photo: DSSPAC Vanuatu)

Join UNDPs efforts by donating to one of the urgent campaigns and also by checking and sending us comments to our Crowdfunding for disaster cookbook.

UNDP support works towards “empowering women and persons with disabilities to publicly lead and promote gender equitable and universally accessible response, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction approaches is key,” (Sendai Framework: Priority 4,32).

The RESPAC project is funded by the Russian Federation.

Andrea Waqa -Montu and Noud Leenders, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji
Marina Petrovic and Robert Pasicko, UNDP Alternative Finance Lab, Istanbul, Turkey

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