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The Struggle to Stay on Ambae

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Since the eruption of Monaro Voui volcano, the Government of Vanuatu has encouraged people from Ambae to find places to live on other islands. But people don’t want to permanently leave the land that is part of their identity. So, despite the risks many have returned to Ambae.

Moses is the Area Administrator for East Ambae. He’s one of the people who returned to Ambae. He is living in Lovumkatabola community, and helping the returnees settle and adjust to living with an active volcano. Their greatest need is safe water in their community.

“Evacuees returned to Ambae a couple of months ago,” Moses explains. “At the moment there’s enough water, as some of our community is still in Santo. If more come back, we have problem.”

Even getting enough safe water for their current population was difficult. Moses explains that when they returned, the wells were all dirtied by the ash. But some could be cleaned.

“In my community, there are six water wells (in ground open tanks), but after the ash fall when we came back, we are using only two. The other four were not… “ he pauses and thinks for a moment. “Were unfit for human consumption.”

The people climbed down into the wells with buckets and rags. They emptied out all the ash gathered at the bottom. They scrubbed the walls clean. They built new gutters, to collect rain water. Even with all this hard work, they still have to rely on the rain for their clean water.

“Before we had wells, when we were kids, we used to collect water from the river, the creek,” Moses says. “After school, we took our containers and went to collect water for tomorrow, for tomorrow’s breakfast.

“It was a hard walk, talking about little kids, pregnant women, elderly people, it’s really hard to walk for 2km to collect water for tomorrow. It’s very challenging because we depend on heavy rainfall, so we have water running. If we have long sunny season, we have problems, because water dried up. It’s the same with the wells.

“If there’s no rain,” he said. “We have nothing.”

The uncertainty around the volcano adds greater difficulty. Last time it erupted, they were able to host people from affected villages. Because of the lack of water, they can’t do that again.

“If new eruption takes place next year, we want to host those people again,” Moses says. “If we have water tanks, they can come and use them. At the moment, if we don’t have any water tank, we have to say we can’t host them, we don’t have enough water.”

The people of Lovumkatabola have a great need for more water.

“If there’s no water, we use the sea for bathing. We have to collect water from nearby communities, using 20L containers,” Moses explains.
“We need two water tanks, 6000 litres each, and that would improve our living standard. Kids will be happy. Pregnant women can collect water from short distances. Elderly people can collect water from short distances. Kids will drink clean water, in order to excel in education.”

Moses, and others in Lovumkatabola, are among the people who will benefit from the money raised during Safe Water September this year. 1 in 9 people around the world don’t have access to safe water close to home. Many more like Moses have unreliable water. They can’t always access it, or it can easily become dirty and unsafe.

By supporting Safe Water September with your donation, you are making a difference in the life of somebody like Moses. Just $20 can provide one person with life-changing safe water. And it’s not too late – donations to Safe Water September aren’t closed yet!

Moses is encouraged by hearing about the supporters like you in Australia who are taking part in, and donating to the Safe Water September challenge.

“Ambae people needs water, more than shelter. I’d like to see people around East Ambae, where I belong, to have access to safe, clean drinking water. To my friends and partners in Australia, please, give us some water, give us some water tank, come back and visit us. Help us to access safe drinking water. Tank you tumas.”

If you would like to give to support people like Moses, donations are still open at safewaterseptember.org.au/donate

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