Vanuatu Operational Report 2-
Thursday March 26th, 2015
Some positional back ground: The city where most of the team stays Port Villa, is on an island called Efate. One of the hardest hit islands is 45 minutes south by plane and is called Tanna
2 days ago we hiked deep into the jungle in northern Tanna to assess 3 villages who still hasn’t received aid.
Until yesterday, the lower 2 villiages, Launapaiu and Lous, we inaccessible by road, which has finally been cleared. Just to be clear, that road is not easy to drive, it must be 4 wheel, takes about an hour. Walking takes 4-5 hours. The third Villiage, the one we are most worried about is called Lowenthal, about 360 people and they are in trouble. This is where we camped the first night. Presently, they must walk about 45 minutes to a different town for their water and their food stocks are nearly depleted. Instead of making the walk, many try to drink from natural wells that appear near the beach, these are sometimes contaminated with sea water and is probably what others have reported. However, many of these sources are in fact clean, it is just very strange to watch someone drink from a puddle a few feet from the shore.
The Village Lowenthal is only accessible by a long hike. Even helicopter access would be limited due to too many trees. There used to be some access by boat, but then you would need to climb a wooden ladder up 300 feet straight up. That ladder was broken in the Cyclone.
Because of the desperate need for water, we returned to port villa on Tuesday the 25th. I Spent most of Wednesday March 26th with Craig trying to navigate the UN disaster offices. It is such an absolute nightmare of confusing committees, divisions, titles, maps, forms etc.
Craig spent a good 3 hours trying to get permission to use 2 Australian army Blackhawks that are just sitting on the runway at the port villa airport to make an emergency water delivery to our three villages.
To make matters worse, there is another NGO group, and another worker from that group, we will call Lucy, who was adamant that we didn’t need the helicopters despite our assessments which included exact GPS positions for landing sites. Long story short we learned that this particular individual gave resistance to our proposal because she wanted to use them today (and she did). This is a very tricky thing to deal with, everyone has needs but without actually seeing what her situation is, we can’t really say or judge whether her needs were more immediate.
While Craig was talking with the UN liaison for the Blackhawks, a pair of government assistants heard about what we were trying to do, and offered to try to line up a desalinization vessel (a giant yacht called the dragonfly), that has a helicopter landing pad, to airdrop 9 – 1000 liter water tanks (full btw) to the outer three locations. It would be spectacularly effective because the heli wouldn’t have to actually land, as the two northern villages have drop zones, not necessarily landing areas. I worked out the GPS positions for them and they said they would make it their number one priority.
Craig filled out all the forms he could to get the Blackhawks, and we started brain storming other options. We have another government contact on Tanna Island (where the 3 villiages are located) named Natasha, who works with the local leadership office helping to coordinate with logistics there.
Natasha has been very helpful with many things, and offered to see if she could get the help of the French military to use their two helicopters on Tanna. She also said if we could get the water to Tanna from port villa, it would make it more possible.
Craig comes up with the idea to rent 2 local charter planes in port villa and fly our own bottled water in which we could purchase in port villa. We feel this is a good back up plan because it gives us more control over getting it there and not relying on a military asset.
Natasha was also able to line up some food aid for the 3 villiages, to be dropped at Lous, which has a huge soccer field, and would make an excellent landing pad for a heli, the negative here is that it is about an hour away walking from the town that needs it most, Lowenthal.
So this is how the day actually played out: we wake up early, buy 1300 kg of water, drive it to the airport, load the planes, fly to Tanna, unload the planes. Natasha tells us to speak with the French Army at the airport, who then say they can take our water, but only one person, so the decision is made that I should ride with the water on the helicopter and Craig and our local guide Steven start making the trek to the drop zone, 4 hours away by foot. If they can find a ride great, but not likely.
So I’m sitting there for about an hour, and then the French soldiers come out to finally tell me they can’t take me. I ask the world food program guy to move our water into a storage tent and Now that I’m separated from Craig and Steven, without a guide, & need to make my way 4 hours into the jungle to rendezvous with them at the landing zone. I don’t get the warm fuzzies about making this walk alone, so I head down to where the water taxis are by hitchhiking with some random gentleman at the airport, he drives me 2 miles north to the water taxi location, but to my dismay, all the boats are gone for the day.
I still don’t feel good about walking, so a man there helped me find someone with a truck who said he could take me. Long story short, we drive the entire length to the landing zone, and it cost me $250.
I meet up with Craig and Steven, who by now have a huge group of locals waiting ready to carry away their bottled water, and I have break the news to the water it isn’t coming. I called Natasha about the food drop, and she says it is on the way and should arrive in 10 minutes. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, the same exact French helicopter that just told me they couldn’t take me, bring some rice, about 900 kg, about 5 kg per family. Not enough. We help unload it, but because this was food that officially came from the local government, they are responsible for the accountability of the distribution, which is fine with us as long as they get it. The local leadership here on Tanna has actually been outstanding and extremely supportive of what we are trying to do here so we are very grateful to them.
I call the back up plan, which is the dragonfly, they say the water drops will happen at 4pm. We start the last leg of the hike to Lowenthal. The paths had been cleared and it was much easier this time. The dragonflys helicopters never arrive and even calling them on the sat phone is fruitless as no one answers. By now it’s getting dark and Craig and I decide to set camp.
We are the point now where we just want to look for options that we can control, instead of begging for military assets. Many very difficult things have been lined up: the assessments, the locations, getting the right permission, getting the actual water and now we need to figure out how to get it from the airport to the 3 villages. We are thinking of hiring a truck to drive the water to Launapaiu and Lous, but The last one, Lowenthal is going to be tricky, as it’s looking like the water will have to be walked in, which takes about an hour from the furthest point it can be driven in.
We don’t have Internet out here in the jungle, so by the time I post this, I’ll be able to report what actually happened.
Friday March 27, 2015
It rained, but we stayed dry and warm in our Hennessy Hanmocks. They have been wonderful additions to my gear, less than 2 pounds, very small and compact, no mosquito net or bed roll required. The Dragonfly made morning deliveries to Lous and Launapaiu, but Lowenthal was too risky due to high winds. They did a great job with the other locations. What this means for Lowenthal is that the water will have to be carried in my hand about 45-60 minutes.
That is a difficult thing for me to wrap my mind around, that a community of 360 people need to walk up to an hour to get fresh water. This is one of our primary focuses at this point. I’d like to figure a way to repair their original water source.
Long story short, the local government delivered another few loads of food to the helicopter landing, about 5kg of rice per family and some other items. We also delivered about 1300 kg of water to Launapaiu and Lowenthal with the help of another NGO called liberties of the Nations.
It will buy us about a week of time to find much more in port villa and get it shipped over.
After the deliveries, we reported to the local government and got the green light from them to be the main support group for those 3 communities, including food, water, seeds, shelter and other non-food items.This is a huge win for all involved.
In order to move to goods up the coast to the villages from the airport or boat docks,
we found a local boater, and found a way to purchase gasoline (it is being rationed). This will allow us the capacity to bring up about 1 Ton of aid per trip.
We have purchased a few thousand feet of black pvc tubing and returning to Tanna tomorrow with a water engineer and another specialist, tools and some more food. We are planning on repairing the water lines to the northern most and southern most villages. We are planning on spending 3 days there, during which time we are shipping over 5 tons rice and other food by boat. Craig and I will pick it up in Tanna, and move it up. We also have a few other partnerships with other aid organizations for other supplies and goods that we will also transport up. It’s going to be a very busy next 3 days.