A 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the Island of Tongoa on 29 May 2009, at 6:20pm. The quake was centred 75km west of Port Vila and had a depth of 29.8 miles. Although the epicentre of the quake was on Emae, the island of Tongoa, with an estimated population of 3 000 to 5 000, was most affected, particularly the coast of Akomae, in South East Tongoa to the South West part. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported that there was no threat of tsunami. Ten to twelve small tremors have been recorded so far.
Damage to Infrastructure
The earthquake damaged buildings included provincial government offices, schools, houses, health, and religious infrastructures. Seventy five per cent of cemented ground wells were broken posing a threat to safe water supply. There were landslides in the most affected areas. A few buildings collapsed. Gardens were damaged which might limit local food supply. Damaged roads might affect assessment and distribution of aid and supplies.
As of 5 June, there were no deaths reported. Ten people have been injured.
The Silimauri Health Centre suffered damages. These include cracks in the underground well, destruction of the staff house, damages in the toilet, ground collapse, and fiberglass tank damages. Many drugs were also damaged and destroyed. The government identified the need to make sure that the sustainability of services, water and health personnel (nurses) are provided.
Shefa Province organized an emergency meeting with the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and Geology & Mines. An assessment team composed of representatives from Geology and Mines, NDMO and Shefa Province was deployed on 31 May. A full task force team will be sent soon. NDMO has already issued a community warning on safety of population especially having to do with buildings and landslides.
Initial assessment has identified possible challenges:
- Difficulty to access by road on the island,
- Limited financial resources,
- Limited provincial and national capacity,
- Limited water supply infrastructure on the island, and
- Coordination among different levels as well as lack of equipment and machineries to clear the road.
Assessment is currently ongoing in order to:
- Determine the number of affected villages/families and children and identify most vulnerable groups,
- Determine the key health problems and identify appropriate management and interventions,
- Conduct testing of water,
- Assess food security of the affected villages,
- Provide and pre-position appropriate inputs/supplies (ORS, basic drugs, water containers, etc) in target areas, and
- Pre-inform community leaders of the importance of developing community participation in partnership with provincial authorities.
The following priorities were identified:
- Water and water containers,
- Health assessment and monitoring,
- Supply of drugs,
- The function of several health facilities must be ensured. Tavalapa Dispensary and Magarisu Aid Post must be reopened. Bongabonga Aid Post must also resume its operation. Additional nurses are needed. One tent must be provided for health staff.
- Immediate deployment of various technical personnel for a thorough assessment of the disaster,
- Urgent maintenance and repair of access roads,
- Distribution of water and water containers,
- Distribution of temporary shelters (tarpaulin, tents),
- Food supply might be needed, Medical supplies, and
- Portable seismograph
The multi-sectoral team led by NDMO identified medium term plans namely:
- Rebuilding of water tanks and underground wells,
- Health Sanitation and inspections,
- Rebuilding of Silimauri Health Centre staff house and facility, schools and community buildings,
- Repair of roads and drainages, and
- Community assistance to rebuild gardens and houses.
Long term rehabilitation plans are as follows:
- Proper assessment of water supply system to the community, health centres and schools (RWS projects),
- Relocation of some communities to safe sites (high risk communities include Lumbukuti, Panita, Meriu, Kurumabe and Lupalea),
- Relocation of Silimauri Health Centre, Hiwelo and Nottage Primary Schools, and
- Permanent monitoring of volcanic activity
The Ministry of Health is in close coordination with the NDMO and other government agencies for the assessment of health needs of affected populations.
WHO continues to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and other UN agencies for updates and technical assistance.
Source of Information
NDMO, Department of Geology & Mines, Tongoa Police Post and Shefa Province
Multi-Sectoral Assessment Team
Republic of Vanuatu
For further information please contact:
Dr Bernard Fabre-Teste
Fax: (+676) 23-928
Dr. Ken Chen
WHO South Pacific
Fax: (+679) 330-0462 and 331-1530
WHO South Pacific
Fax: (+679) 3234166
WHO Regional Office
Dr Arturo Pesigan
Tel: (632) 528 9810
Fax: (632) 528 9072