When the state of emergency was declared on Ambae Island, evacuating everyone safely from the island was the top priority. Now the people of Ambae are safe from the volcano – but day-to-day living in an evacuees’ camp comes with challenges of its own.
One of the biggest challenges for the evacuees living in Luganville, Santo is reliable access to water. Luganville and the surrounding area only has one water company supplying water to the population of 11,000. The arrival of some 6,000 evacuees has added additional strains on this already stretched natural resource.
Ambae Chief John Tambe and over 200 people from his family and community were relocated to a rural Anglican Church mission area outside Luganville town. Despite having a water tap and a 6,000 litre water tank in their camp, accessing sufficient water was very difficult.
Chief John said, “There was very little water collected in the tank because the gutter pipe that collected water was so small and there was not much rainfall, so it was depleted really fast.”
Speaking about the water tap in the evacuation site, Luke Bamberry, World Vision’s water technician said, “The tap at the evacuation camp is the last tap right at the end of the Luganville water system and with the added pressure of the evacuees, the water it supplies is greatly affected.”
Chief John said, “We have to wait until midnight for water to run slowly out of the tap. The water would run slowly for a couple of hours. Sometimes there would be no water at all. ”The community has agreed that water for cooking and drinking is the priority, but sometimes they haven’t got enough water even for that.”
John and his wife Lilon have three children. Their youngest Ruru is 10. “I miss my home on Ambae, I feel very bad when I am thirsty but have no water to drink like I can do back home,” he said.
When there was no or little water they had to walk three kilometres with children and dirty laundry to wash and shower.
Lilon shared, “If we are able to pay for transport for water, we do so. But otherwise, it is so far for us to walk and carry children and laundry. Sometimes we would not wash clothes or shower for up to four days!”
Lilon continued, “It’s not so bad for the men, but it is very uncomfortable for all of us women in the community when we are not able to bathe for more than 24 hours. It is shameful for us to have to cook for the family when we are not clean and we stay away from all other family or community activities like church.”
Without water, the evacuees’ income earning opportunities are also limited.
“We need water to be able to make kava and other little snacks to sell for income. The money that we make is so important for families at this time when we have no land, no gardens, no transport and no other source of income for basic needs. When there is no water we lose that opportunity and we become so hopeless,” said John.
And the challenges don’t stop there. With 200 people living in the one temporary camp, other hygiene problems have also emerged. “When we first arrived here several weeks ago, it was evident that defecation was occurring in places other than toilets because of the smell and the large number of flies,” said World Vision’s Northern Area Program Manager Vomboe Molly.
Chief John explained, “We came from the island and using toilets was not something we considered to be important. There was only one bush toilet, so we used the bush around the site. With no water for washing hands either, I know that hygiene was a big problem for us.”
When World Vision visited Chief John’s community, it was clear that helping them access more water was critical. As an immediate measure, World Vision paid for the Luganville fire station to truck in water to fill the 6,000 litre tank with water as regularly as possible and a more reliable water catchment was installed to increase the water collected in the during rainfall.
While water remains a challenge for the whole community, Chief John says this intervention has made the situation a little less critical. “The truck does not come daily, the water truck is too small and does not fill the tank completely and the water is used up very fast, but I am so happy because now we have more water available to use. Not only has World Vision given us access to more clean water but they have also helped us build new toilets and spent time talking to us about water management, and hygiene, especially for the women and children. We have been blessed with the help we have received.”
Lilon agrees, “I am so happy that the mothers and I around here can clean ourselves, prepare clean food, have clean water to drink and be able to wash our children. We know that we have to use the water wisely and I have to hold off on washing clothes regularly, but I don’t have to worry so much about bathing as I did in the past.”
John and Lilon’s son Ruru shared, “I am so glad when I can drink water when I am thirsty, I can shower more often and I can wash my hands after using the toilet.”
For Chief John, the water is important – but World Vision’s help has meant so much more. “If World Vision had not turned up when they did and helped as they have, I strongly believe that my community would have suffered from sickness and other problems. We are waiting for directions from the Government for our future but we are glad that we now have more hope.”
The work that was done to assist the community was funded by the Australian government through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, and private donations from World Vision USA, World Vision Canada, and World Vision Australia.