Yesterday’s report that people refused to board an evacuation ship to Maewo only underlines the difficulty of communicating and supporting this massive and long-term relief effort.
Yet few of us are properly focused what is clearly becoming a crisis. People are everywhere on the issue. Some are vehement in their demands that we cover the slow-moving disaster more closely. Others tell us not to dwell on people’s misery. Some say they’re not being listened to. Others say they’re not speaking through proper channels.
Some people blamed a film crew for exacerbating the volcano when they walked to the summit of Mt Lombenben. They did perform a kastom ceremony and received permission from the chiefs of the village they departed from. It’s hard to accept, but it’s in the public interest.
We have to be frank and honest about the situation. We also have to be inclusive.
A delegation of Ambaeans that came to the Daily Post office this week represented a significant number of people. No matter what their formal status, they need access to authorities in order to ensure that their concerns and ideas are being heard.
That’s happening, but not consistently. We sent a request to discuss this issue to the Prime Minister’s office, but received no response. Speaking informally, however, more than one high-ranking source has expressed impatience with people demanding to be heard. That’s understandable, but not helpful.
The government needs to be communicating more, not less. They need to be listening more, not less. They need to be offering more options, not fewer.
Yes, it’s difficult, and resources are already stretched, but it’s clear that the level of support being offered in Maewo is not sufficient to handle the few who are already there. The government’s own emergency response team recommended removing the children who are staying in Gambule and Nasawa schools. These medical professionals report that the children are undergoing a ‘traumatic experience’.
The discontent is only going to grow unless authorities focus more resources on the problem, and apply them with greater transparency. Confusion abounds. Reports have circulated of teachers being falsely informed that their salaries will be withheld if they don’t embark their students. Donated shipments of goods are reportedly sitting undelivered on the wharf. Witnesses tell us that even the government workers on the island are at their wits end.
In response to this, the government has issued a number of statements and directives. Some of these statements lack detail, some lack clarity, and many don’t address the numerous different alternatives being considered by Ambaeans.
Some islanders want to stay, and feel they can. Some want to leave, and return later. Some realise they’re never going home. There is no single solution. And there is no range of solutions that will please everybody all the time. There are some people who will have to be forced to accept a change in circumstances. It’s painful to say so, but it’s the simple truth.
The people and the government of Vanuatu have always excelled at helping each other out when times are tough. We know how to respond to immediate need.
But this crisis is entirely different from a cyclone, tsunami or earthquake. And it is clear that our response so far has been insufficient. That applies on all sides.
Ambaeans need to find a way to speak with a unified voice. That hasn’t happened yet.
The government needs to prepare a mandate to listen to that voice. The current communications channels are simply not working. There is a growing and disturbing amount of discontent surrounding this crisis. And regardless of the legal correctness of the current protocol, it’s not addressing some pretty important concerns.
For better or for worse, Maewo is simply not working as an alternative for too many Ambaeans. You can argue all you like about the whys and the wherefores. The reality is that it’s not sufficient to point to one location and refuse assistance to people seeking an alternative.
Everyone in this nation—media included—needs to stop acting like the frog in the boiling pot. We’ve got to accept that we’ve got a national crisis on our hands, and focus on coping with it.
Source: Vanuatu Daily Post,