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Prepared for disaster

Clean drinking water is a human right, and in Australia we take running taps and clean, safe drinking water for granted. Yet, for villagers in Vanuatu, disastrous volcanic eruptions constantly threaten their access to this basic necessity.

Tracey Robinson/Ac t for Peace Image Frame

The small village of Isaka, located on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, is home to Mount Yasur, an active volcano that has a severe impact on local water quality and limits the food production of communities living nearby. Ongoing minor eruptions create ash falls that spoil the drinking water, causing respiratory problems and eye infections when ingested. And, of course, there is the constant threat of a major eruption or typhoon, after which access to essential safe drinking water becomes even more difficult.

The challenge of finding safe and clean drinking water is an issue for many villages like Isaka across the world. Globally, more than 900 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and more than 6,000 people, mostly children, die each day from diseases caused by dirty water.

For the nakamals (communities) in Isaka, the ash falls mean that water harvested using traditional methods, from roof catchments or shelters, is not safe. Instead they are forced to make a long and often dangerous trek though thick jungle and over steep mountains to find water. The jungle is so dense that travel is only possible by foot, and all the water needed for cooking, drinking, bathing and hygiene has to be carried over these treacherous paths.

“When we need water it would mean having to collect any containers we could find and walk along the bush track for a long way until we reached the main stream. We then fill our containers and bathe before making the long way back. It is very hard work and takes many hours everyday” Emma Kota, Mama. Isaka village, Tanna Island.

In March 2014, life for the nakamals in Isaka changed for the better. As part of Act for Peace’s Pacific Community Risk Reduction Project, over 2 kilometres of water pipes were laid over rugged terrain, for the first time connecting the village to a fresh water supply unaffected by volcanic ash falls. 34 taps and 34 showers were also installed in the village. The water system means the community no longer needs to risk using polluted water, or make the long trek to the stream. It has been a welcome relief, particularly to the women in the community who are responsible for food preparation, cooking, cleaning, and bathing the children.

“As the Chief I am so happy that we now have running water. Everyone can drink and bathe and the mamas now can stay at the house and not have to work so hard preparing everything because the water is here in the village. Thank you so much” Chief Namalc Jimmy, Isaka village.

Isaka is one of 30 communities in the Pacific participating in Act for Peace’s Community Risk Reduction Project. The program is equipping thousands of people with the knowledge, resources, and technical assistance to install appropriate water systems, adapt to the effects of climate change, and reduce the risks they face from natural disasters, such as typhoons and volcanoes.

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