By Hanna Butler, IFRC

Manaro Voui, the active volcano which forms the island of Ambae in Vanuatu, has been erupting since September last year, killing crops, polluting the air and water, and forcing people to flee their homes.

Recent eruptions have worsened, food crops and water sources are now severely contaminated. Heavy ashfall has destroyed homes and is thought to have caused a landslide that ripped through an entire village. Many areas of Ambae are now deemed uninhabitable for the near future.

Most of the 10,000 people who call the island home have fled to a safe spot in the south and some have already left for nearby islands.

Vanuatu Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline De Gaillande says it’s a tough and uncertain time for the people of Ambae.

“Dealing with the eruption is one thing, but on top of that people are having to contemplate leaving their homes for some time, not knowing when they can return. Leaving your home – which is your land, your food source, your livelihood and your place of history, culture and community are incredibly difficult.

“Our Red Cross teams have been working with local government helping people of Ambae since the eruptions began in September. We’ll continue to support people in their places of temporary relocation and we’ll be there to help them begin to rebuild their lives when they permanently relocate.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released 277,550 Swiss francs (281,900 US dollars) from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund to support Vanuatu Red Cross to help up to 5,000 people with relief items such as tarpaulins, shelter toolkits, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets, solar lights, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits.

Vanuatu Red Cross volunteers are also working to keep evacuated communities safe and healthy through awareness activities that focus on water, hygiene promotion and epidemic control.

Mrs De Gaillande says due to the nature of the disaster, they are also focusing on the emotional needs of people on Ambae.

“We will be providing psycho-social support, and distributing pre-paid phone credit cards help families separated during this disaster to stay connected.”

As the Shelter Cluster co-lead with the Vanuatu Government, IFRC is supporting emergency shelter coordination at the provincial and national level and will also assist with shelter needs for communities who relocate.