Over the last two years, the people of Ambae, Vanuatu, have lived in a state of upheaval. When Manaro Voui volcano erupted they were forced to evacuate. When they returned, their communities had been damaged by ash fall and acid rain, and had been abandoned for months. Soon after there was a second evacuation, causing further disruption. After months in evacuation camps on other islands, residents were advised to establish ‘second homes’ on these nearby islands. While the volcanic activity has calmed down, it’s uncertain whether living on Ambae without further evacuations will be possible.
Paul Aguar is the pastor of the Amata Church, and a leader in his community. He, his family, and some others from his community, moved to Santo following the impact of the volcano on their village.
It took a long time to secure land on Santo for the people from Amata. Despite being safer, they were leaving behind their home. Their new land was uncleared bush. There were no gardens to grow food in or shelters to live in. They had no access to water. Everything had to be started from scratch.
Water was one of the most urgent needs. Without ways to collect water, people like Paul relied on whatever water they could find. They collected rain in small containers, found unused bores supplied by former missionaries, or in some cases, made use of salt water from the ocean.
They had no choice but to travel to collect water wherever it was available – regardless of its quality.
Through this period, GMP has been supporting these communities. Earlier this year, Elise Andrews, our Director of Communications, visited Santo and spoke to some of the locals impacted by the evacuation from Ambae.
“Back on the island, we had water from the rain,” Paul said, “We built an underground well to store the water. Before the volcano erupted, we had good water in the wells. Clean. But when the volcano erupted, ash fell and our water became dirty. We moved over to Santo – but we had no water on the land that we were allocated.”
Access to safe water is vital for any community. For Paul, it means his granddaughter is protected from waterborne diseases like diarrhoea. It means his community can wash their food, making it safe to eat. It means they can wash, bathe, cook and grow their food safely.
Paul’s community was lucky that an old borehole was a few hundred meters from their new community. But even with it close by, the bore’s rusty hand pump is difficult to operate, and water is heavy to carry.
“Every day, we had to go and get the water – 100-200 metres to get water from the underground bore,” Paul said. “It is hard work for us to get the water. Every day we have to go and get it to use for cooking and washing. Hand pumped, every day.”
Because of supporters like you, GMP was able to provide the community on Santo with a water tank on their land, enabling them to gather their own water. You also helped provide a roof extension, giving proper gutters and piping, so the community could effectively harvest rainwater in the tank.
“The coordinator of the relief came and asked us, ‘What do you need?’ and we said, ‘We need water’. We thank you so much for the tank; it has helped us so much. It’s easier to get water.”
Even with this water tank, there are still challenges for Paul and his community. They still don’t have enough water for the community to be self-sustaining.
“With the population here, it’s not enough for everything. The tank is only enough for cooking and drinking. We have to get more water somewhere to wash our clothes, bathe, and water our crops.”
This year, Safe Water September is supporting communities from Ambae in Vanuatu, like Paul’s, that need access to safe water! After the effects of the volcanic disaster has made these communities vulnerable, we hope to partner with them to ensure they have safe water – whether on Ambae or in their second homes.
One in nine people worldwide don’t have clean water close to home, and we want to change this. All around Australia, people are drinking nothing but water for the month of September. You can help by making a donation, and encouraging others in your community to get involved too!
With your support this year, Paul and his community can work towards their goals of a more safe and stable life.
“We want to see more water storage, and better shelter for our community. One day we are going back to Ambae, but here in Santo, we call it our second home.”
Your support not only helps provide this vital safe water, it is also incredibly meaningful to these people who have faced two difficult years.
“Thankyou very much for helping us with the water tank and guttering,” Paul said. “You’ve done so much for us. You help us much. And we appreciate your help.”
You can get more updates on Safe Water September and make a donation at SafeWaterSeptember.org.au