The Lingering Danger of Disaster on Ambae

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Without safe water, people face preventable disease, poor hygiene and scarcity of food and drinking water. Children are most at risk of these dire effects. And 1 in 9 people still don’t have access to clean water close to home.

Nerinda lives in Sarambulu, on the island of Ambae in Vanuatu, with her husband and two children. The people there gather and store rainwater in tanks and in wells they dig. There are no permanent rivers or lakes on Ambae. The only flowing water is a small creek that only flows when it rains.

But when Monaro Voui volcano erupted, Sarambulu faced a lot of new problems.

“When the volcano erupted, our waters became dirty,” Nerinda says. “We preserved some from our wells and tanks, but some of them don’t have good covers. The ashes go straight in the water and spoils it, we can’t use it because it’s dirty.”

People had to evacuate the island, and scattered to different parts of the country.

“It’s so hard for us to leave all our belongings, our homes, back in our village,” Nerinda explains. “When you leave your island to go to other people’s island it’s hard. We are thinking, especially children and mothers, we all cried because we starting thinking; how are we going there? Are we safe?

“We don’t know how we will survive when we go. And during that time we have many discussions, we talk together, and we put everything in God’s sight. God will do everything for us when we are away from this island.”

Eventually, people returned to Ambae. But when Nerinda returned to her home, she found that it had been devastated.

“When we first came home, there was no grass. Only trees are standing, on the ground there’s nothing. Most tanks and wells are broken. We only saved some, mostly wells. After the ash fall there was heavy rain, and the water tanks are full but all dirty.

“We drink dirty water during that time, because there’s nothing, we can’t collect,” she admits. “Example, me and my family we come back from Vila, we got one plastic container of water to save us until the rain refills the tanks and well.

“The children started to cough, and we go down to the hospital, to get medicine to help them. They advise us to clean our water before we drink. We boil it before we drink. They thought the water was making the children sick.”

Thankfully, things are starting to improve in Sarambulu. The plants have started to grow again, and the village is green and they have repaired some tanks to gather clean water. The children are not sick now, and the local school has resumed classes.

Nerinda can see clearly how important safe water is to her community.

“It’s good because it helps us not get sick, and because we always live by water. Everything we do needs water. We cook, we use water, we wash, we swim and also drink. We need more water tanks for our community. Because we don’t know when the volcano will happen again, if it happens again the water from the creek can’t be used. We will only be able to use the tanks.”

This year, Safe Water September is raising money to fund water projects and tanks in villages like Sarambulu, as well as in rural Zimbabwe. Just $20 can make a life-changing difference to somebody like Nerinda, by providing them with access to safe, clean water.

“Thank you,” Nerinda says. “We in Sarambulu are glad you take time to think about us in this community. Especially to raise money for water tanks and other things. We are thankful that you have a heart for us. God will richly bless you, and the people in Australia. We are facing disaster as you all know, and we are thankful because you have a heart to help us.”

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