View over trees in Vanuatu; View over trees in Vanuatu;

Developing disaster waste management preparedness in Vanuatu

Arup was invited by RedR Australia to accompany them on a reconnaissance trip to Vanuatu to review the work undertaken by RedR deployees in the wake of Cyclone Pam in 2015. Cyclone Pam, a category 5 cyclone, hit Vanuatu over the weekend of the 11-13 March, 2015, causing over AU$500m of damage and widespread devastation across this developing nation.

I was chosen to accompany RedR Australia on the reconnaissance trip. In the wake of Cyclone Pam RedR deployed 15 staff to work in the areas of food distribution and logistics, WASH recovery projects, medical aid distribution, and general project management within the National Disaster Management Organisation (NDMO). This was the greatest number of RedR staff deployed from Australia to a single disaster response operation.

During my visit, a consistent theme identified through discussions with many Vanuatuan and International Agencies was waste management in Vanuatu - waste management is a major challenge during business as usual, let alone in the wake of a major natural disaster. ”

Joanne Manning Joyanne Manning Resource and Waste Management Lead, Australasia

With support from RedR, I have been working on a project in partnership with SUEZ Australia, and with Mandalay Technologies providing advice and guidance on disaster waste management preparedness. The goal of the project is to ensure this remote island nation is better prepared to deal with the aftermath clean up from major weather events. Arup has also provided a bursary scholarship to a final year student from Griffith University to complete her research thesis preparing a natural disaster waste management preparedness guideline.

View through trees on Ambae Island View through trees on Ambae Island

Last week, myself and Gavin Tunstall from SUEZ Australia, finally got to revisit Vanuatu. We visited Ambae Island in Penama Province, Luganville on Espiritu Santo and the capital Port Vila and met with representatives from Penama Provincial Government, Luganville Municipal Council and the Department of the Environment.

The challenges faced outside the major centres of Port Vila, Luganville and Lénakel (Tanna) are very different.

Outside their major municipal centres there is absolutely no waste infrastructure. In the populated centres, there is some established waste management planning and infrastructure, but it is basic and in need of more resources and funding.

Ambae Island is probably one of the most untouched by the developed world locations I have ever lived in. No sealed roads, 98% of the population has no access to power, water or sanitation, there are no port facilities, industry, and of specific interest to me, there is no waste management infrastructure. The 10,000 population who pretty much entirely survive on subsistence living burn, bury or dump their waste.

But this island is developing power infrastructure, is seeking better access to water for its population and has plans to build a wharf which will mean easier importation of commodities and consumables and are desperately wanting to develop tourism.

Vanuatu introduced legislation last year which now bans the burning, burying and illegal dumping of waste so to comply with this, the Province has to develop waste infrastructure. But even the first step of acquiring a site to develop a waste landfill, requires mapping and given that the vast majority of the country is unmapped this is a significant challenge.

Moving forward Ambae and the other Vanuatuan Islands will become more developed. They will develop power and water and other infrastructure mainly to support tourism, resulting in more and more waste generation, and the generation of new waste streams which will all need to be managed.


The islands critically need to develop waste infrastructure to stop contamination and pollution being caused from burning, burying and illegal dumping of waste. To do this they need resources, capacity and capability, which is all lacking in the current government agencies and provinces. I'm looking forward to my continued involvement and seeking ways of influencing and convincing others to also get involved and help build capability and capacity in Vanuatu to progress the development of waste infrastructure across the islands.