This paper analyses the 2017-2018 eruption of Ambae volcano, Vanuatu, which caused the entire population of the island (~11,700 people) to be evacuated off-island, as this event presents a valuable opportunity to learn from a large-scale forced migration in a Pacific setting. Lessons from this event will advise and help to plan for future population displacements and forced migrations due to hazard and climate change events.
The report contains the following key findings:
- The NZ-funded cash transfer scheme and the RSE scheme empowered evacuees to meet their needs and improve their living conditions.
- There were considerable material and social advantages for communities that made evacuation decisions together, evacuated together and resettled together. This suggests that evacuation planning should facilitate communities to make decisions communally, and where possible to evacuate and relocate together.
- Almost all interviewees intended to return to Ambae, and most reported experiencing a lower standard of living on Santo compared to Ambae. Recovery planning needs to recognize and facilitate the strong desire of displaced people to return home.
- While most interviewees accepted that it was a good idea to have a second home off Ambae in the event of future volcanic activity, those spoken to had chosen to evacuate to Santo at their own cost rather than taking up the government-sponsored second home scheme on Maewo. Reasons given for not taking up the Maewo option were that it was perceived as being too close to, and downwind of, Ambae volcano; that they perceived that they would not be welcome on Maewo; fears of cultural differences, and scepticism about promises of resources for building second homes. Overall, evacuation planning needs to account for people’s preferences and offer options.
- Protracted displacements were causing considerable hardships, including lack of potable water, lack of income and lack of fresh vegetables, in some communities.