BLANKETED IN ASH: Ambae covered in volcanic ash in July this year.
BLANKETED IN ASH: Ambae covered in volcanic ash in July this year. Contributed

Vanuatuan villagers call for farm job help after volcanoes

IT MAY be a long way from Bundaberg to Vanuatu, but Vanuatuan man Hollingsworth Garae is calling on farmers to help him get his fellow villagers back on their feet.

Mr Garae is from an island called Ambae in North Vanuatu where volcanic eruptions have devastated the community.

He has shared his story in the hope that Bundaberg farmers could give himself and other Vanuatuans work in order to help restore their home.

Ambae, as Mr Garae says, was once known as AOBA, or Bali Ha'i "as in the book Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener".

"After the last eruptions in 2005, Lombenben or Manaro volcano (as is known by the Ambaeans) erupted again in September 2017 when the first state of emergency was given by the Council of Ministers, Seismologists and the National Disaster Management Organization over eruption fears," he said.

"Smoke emanated from the Manaro Voui volcano and the government ordered the compulsory evacuation of Ambae island, which is home to about 11,000 people. 

"Islanders saw smoke coming out from the hills and heard regular booming noises from the Manaro volcano."

 

URGENT CALL: Vanuatu's Hollingsworth Garae.
URGENT CALL: Vanuatu's Hollingsworth Garae. Contributed

Ambae is one of about 65 inhabited islands in the Pacific nation about one-quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii.  

According to Mr Garae, New Zealand's military flew over the volcano on Tuesday during the first eruptions in September 2017 and saw huge columns of smoke. Ash and volcanic rocks were billowing from the crater. 

"In November 2017, the situation returned to normal but people still fear it could become active again shortly," Mr Garae said.

In April 2018, the volcano erupted again. This time was worse than it was in 2017.

More than 2000 residents were moved onto the nearby island of Maewo while around 7000 voluntarily relocated to Santo.

"At the evacuation centres of Maewo, evacuees were housed in temporary camp sites, mostly under tents," Mr Garae said.

"Relief supplies such as rice and tinned fish were shared amongst the crowed of evacuees but residents preferred healthier foods.

"Volcanic activity has picked up again over the last few weeks, with fresh ash fall reported across the island of Pentecost and the southern most part of the island of Maewo."

Mr Garae said before the evacuation in July, residents across the island suffered badly from thick periodic ash fall which threatened health, animals and vegetation.

"July eruptions this year output thick ash as high as 12km and emitted an estimated 300,000 tons of ash and sulphur - blanketing the island in ash, suffocating crops and contaminating water sources," he said.

"An exclusion zone had been extended to three kilometres around the crater lake.

"But before that, ash fall in affected areas was described as literally similar to a cyclone - wiping out trees and crops."

Destruction done by volcanic ash on people, plants and crops depends largely on its thickness.

"Weeks before the evacuation in July this year, we received ashes and it's travelling fast," Mr Garae said.

"It's very thick sometimes that residents would keep their lights on at midday because it's very dark. We can't see far.

"We need permanent resettlements. We can't live in tents any longer as the cyclone season is also approaching in November.

"So far, the government is only providing us food supplies but we are not used to eating rice every day."

Mr Garae said he hoped that, under the Seasonal Workers Program, their recruiting agent registered as Tropical Choices, could be hired by interested farmers as a form of indirect assistance in exchange for labourers to work on any Australian farms.

Mr Garae said the number of locals (only Ambeans) on stand-by with valid passports and ready to join in as farm workers has increased to 337 on Maewo alone, not including those evacuees that have voluntarily moved to Santo and Port Vila and currently being looked after by their families.

"We are working closely with them trying to find a way forward to create some work opportunities so that they can continue to work to make their living," Mr Garae said.

"I trust they can be useful in many areas of farm work.

"Generally most have been subsistence farmers all throughout their lives.

"We now await any opportunity should Australian farmers shows interest to hiring them under Seasonal Workers Program.

"We have been granted our agency licence and we want to prioritise our labourers due to this disastrous situation that will affect us now and into the future."

Anyone wanting to contact Mr Garae can email him at vanuatu@cult.is or call +(678) 555 4499.



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