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In May 2023, the Chief of Solwota, Marik Waoute requested a meeting with Minister of Climate Change and Environment to discuss the main challenges with the implementation of the Erakor Lagoons Restoration Plan: government authorities’ indifference; ; No responses to written letter and various requests from Chiefs to government authorities; “too much talk, on the media, but no walk”; No action to Save the Lagoons.

 

There is a extensive background of the community activism to Save the Lagoons by the Community of Erakor. There is a clear involvement of the Council of Chiefs of Erakor and efforts to Save the Lagoons. We will focus on the what has been happening, and not happening, since the Launch of the the Plan on February 2022. All happy at that moment, after wide consultation with authorities the Council of Chiefs expected that national, provincial and municipal government authorities would enforce the most basic environment regulations to prevent pollution into the Erakor Lagoon. This was an assumption of the Plan: that government would be pleased with Communities initiative and would cooperate to Save the Lagoons. But the government authorities at National, Provincial and local level are just not focus on the Lagoon.

On the Earth Day 22 and 23 April of 2022, as part of an activity named – Identification of Pollution. Chiefs tried to engage with authorities by inviting them to a free boat ride (provided my Vanuatu Police Force and private residenys) with food and refreshments donated by businesses (Le Lagoon and Holiday Inn). It seemed then, another promising momentum, after Communities and Chiefs hear with interest hopeful speeches from representatives from authorities direct to the People.

 

21 April 2022 Legan Community, Seaside

21 April 2022 Seaside Legan Vanuatu Central Hospital disfunctional waste water plant

Seaside Legan People, have already lost their hope, they clearly have not any expectation that their life can improve, after 37 years of a negligence and dysfunctional waste water plant discharging pollution on their backyard.

World Earth Day, 22 April 2022:  Department of Environment Protection and Conservation admitting an illegal dumpsite. DEPC witnessed it but no action since then. The Dumpsite doubled its size as visible when the Minister’s visit i 2023.

Chief Marik Koftau putting a Namele leaf that was not respected by Land Owner, lamenting for the situation but hopeful of a government action

Authorities invited to participate on the 2022 Earth Day: Department of Urban and Rural Planning, under Ministry of Internal Affairs, Department of Environment, under Ministry of Climate Change, Department of Fisheries, under Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Water Resources under Ministry of Lands, Public Health Department, under Ministry of Health, Shefa Province and Municipality. Authorities and chiefs took note of each pollution hotspots, as part of Erakor Lagoon Restoration Plan, Objective 1 STOP POLLUTUION. Chiefs were than expecting action which never happened.

Unfortunately, in spite of the Chiefs efforts, the only outcome was few speeches, but not accompanied by any delivery of services, simple application of existing regulations on  littering or any solutions. Many articles on the local media, many statements but no really action. April 2022 was a good moment for authorities plan and budget for 2023, put some resources on activities to Save the Lagoons, and deliver. Nothing was really done so far.

Chiefs collected information about the pollution hotspots, shared with authorities.

Authorities seem reluctant to act to Save the Lagoons. Avoid meetings with the Chiefs about the issue. Rarely authorities progress on practical actions to defend the Lagoons, unless Chiefs put pressure such as threatening government with a court case

13 January 2023.

After this VBTC news Government promised to fix the Hospital which the resilient chiefs patiently accepted without any timeframe communicated.

So more than a year after, Chiefs are seeking more government engagement on the Erakor Lagoons Restoration Plan. They seek for Minister of Climate Change and Environment assistance, as a last hope of engaging with the government, before using the justice system. As the government did for “CLIMATE JUSTICE”. If nothing is done to Save the Lagoons Vanuatu incur on the risk of being Hypocritical, blaming polluters and allow pollution. The talk is not matching with the walk… The main objective of this meeting, as it seems obvious the importance of the Lagoons from Nation perspective for the Environment, Climate Change, Health, Livelihoods, Fisheries Economy, Tourism, Urban Planning, Sports, Wellbeing, etc. When approached, the Minister of Climate Change suggested a visit to the Erakor rather than a meeting on his office. Council of Chiefs and Community were very please, and the Ministry accepted a visit to the Erakor Village Community Hall followed to some pollution hotspots known by government authorities since the 21st and 22nd April 2022 on the Earth Day.

Minister visited some pollution hotspots from which government authorities were already aware and did nothing about it:

1/2 road illegal dumpsite

Pacific Supply Dump illegal dumpsite

Refer to Daily Post News from 2015 and Ministers’ knowledge on the subject

Lagoon residents and former minister concerned by unannounced project

Various evidence on the concerns expressed by the community along with the destruction of a pristine forest of banyan trees

https://www.facebook.com/Vanuatuclean/posts/pfbid0365nVXvBJdWvEgi8r94AqujofpUWkRidu3NqJdStk9tFZWCkaJV4zhk4v1nxcQeXWl

https://www.facebook.com/Vanuatuclean/posts/pfbid0krRWRHyCd4AuFtDUbD5qR5RhCPDWh2oBLocMXx8hSjMS4V47rvkjninRsjkcmnb1l

Quarrier with significand destruction of mangroves and scrap metal illegal dump side margins of Lagoon Erakor side

The Local media, Daily Post and VBTC, made several articles on the Lagoon. Below.

Minister promised that Authorities would now cooperate with Chiefs to Save the Lagoons and address the issues identified. Chiefs wrote a letter, 13 June, to follow up to the Minister and authorities the government actions and seek a follow up meeting, but so far there is no response from authorities.

https://www.dailypost.vu/news/gov-t-to-ban-high-emission-vehicles/article_346fa5d5-36cf-5d0b-ace7-74e7357f1fc7.html

High emitting vehicles to be banned

Minister Regenvanu announced the government’s intention to ban high-emitting vehicles during a visit to Erakor yesterday to find solutions to tackle environment issues faced at the community

Gov’t To Ban High-Emission Vehicles by the end of 2023.

This was revealed by the Minister of Climate Change as part of the Government’s commitment to reducing emission and fighting climate change.

Minister Ralph Regenvanu revealed this during a visit to Erakor village yesterday, where he heard about the environmental issues being faced by the community and the need to take action immediately for the survival of future generation.

He said the regulation on vehicle emission standards is being developed by the Air Quality Task Force that was established early this year.

“The vehicles which do not meet the emission standards will no longer be imported once the regulation is passed,” he said.

In 2017, the Government through the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced it will stop the importation of Hyundai vans into the country starting in 2018.

Apart from banning the importation of every low-quality vehicle with high emissions, the government is also planning to introduce electric buses and cars for public transportation, as part of its energy targets.

Accompanied by officers from the Ministry of Climate, Department of Water, Department of Environment and SHEFA Provincial Government Council, the Minister was received by Erakor Paramount Chief, Marik Kalsaur Kalomtak Pomal VIII during his visit to Erakor.

They visited some sites including the Erakor Lagoon and learnt about issues, which they agreed to address by working together.

https://www.dailypost.vu/news/erakor-community-wants-effective-waste-management-system/article_5087f0d5-d008-593c-aa81-84b919aee104.html

Erakor Community Wants Effective Waste Management System

The community of Erakor in South Efate wants a proper waste management system to protect their environment and keep it healthy for future generations.

Paramount Chief Marik Kalsaur Kalomtak Pomal VIII stressed this to the Minister responsible for environment, Ralph Regenvanu, before showing him sites where people are improperly disposing waste.

They visited two sites where waste is improperly disposed. Improper waste disposal can destroy the environment. Minister Regenvanu heard from officials what needs to be done to stop the poor practise of waste disposal at the site.

They also went to Erakor Lagoon where fishing and swimming have been banned because of the pollution level from sewage discharge.

Chief Pomal VIII said his people depend on their environment for survival and they need cooperation from the government to protect their environment.

Environment, climate change and waste management are priorities of the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC), said Minister Regenvanu.

The Minister told the chief and representatives from the community that they will be included in a waste separation initiative which will begin this month in Port Vila before expanding to the surrounding areas. This will reduce the amount of waste going to Bouffa landfill and promote recycling, he said.

“The main idea is to educate us on how to separate waste. We will be starting the initiative in 16 schools in Port Vila. Children at the Erakor School will be part of the initiative to get an understanding of waste separation,” he said.

Minister Regenvanu mentioned another initiative known as Container Deposit Scheme whereby people are given a VT10 refund for every drinking container they return. He said this scheme will become effective end of this year.

He said the main purpose of his visit to the community is to see and hear how the government can help address issues relating to climate change, waste management and environment.

Minister Regenvanu was accompanied by the Director of the Department of Energy (DoE) and Acting Director General (DG) of the MoCC, Anthony Garae, officials from the ministry, Department of Environmental Conservation and Protection (DEPC), Department of Water Resources and SHEFA Provincial Government Council during his official visit to Erakor.

‘Leading Vanuatu to a clean, resilient, and sustainable environment’ is the vision of the DEPC under the MoCC. The Department’s vision to achieving this vision is leading by example.

https://www.dailypost.vu/news/urgent-call-to-revive-national-wastewater-taskforce/article_b432de84-4045-5cbb-a9e4-5f0ea2f4f6f8.html

Urgent Call to Revive National Wastewater taskforce

The National Wastewater Taskforce must be revived to improve the water quality of the Emten and Ekasuvat Lagoon, which is unsafe for public health.

Compliance Officer from the Department of Water Resources (DoWR), Johnson Peter, was speaking to the Minister of Climate Change, Ralph Regenvanu, and officials from the departments of water and environment, SHEFA Provincial Government Council (SPGC) and community leaders from Erakor during a visit to the lagoon.

Peter told the minister that the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC), through the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DEPC) need to revive the taskforce to work with residents and businesses residing a long the lagoon to reduce contamination and improve the water quality.

According to him, the water quality at the lagoon exceeded the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards for recreational water since 2018.

A ban has been put in place since 2020 to restore the water quality for residents and businesses, following degradation from mostly sewage discharge.

While water quality monitoring is ongoing, it is important the Wastewater Taskforce is revived to address the issue, he added.

Paramount Chief of Erakor, Marik Kalsaur Kalomtak Pomal VIII, stressed that the community has a big population and they depend on their coast for livelihood. He said activities are still happening at the lagoon despite the ban.

Chief Pomal VIII called onto the government through the DEPC to closely work with the community to effectively enforcing the ban.

He thanked the government for its ongoing efforts in restoring the ecosystem for the current and future generation.

In his response, Minister Regenvanu assured that the National Wastewater Taskforce will be revived by June to start addressing sewage discharge into the lagoon, and also look into the progress of securing funding for a new sewage system of the Vila Central Hospital and its maintenance.

He said the DoWR, DEPC and SPGC have a lot of work to do to address all environmental issues being faced at the community.

Erakor Assistant Chief, Peris Kalopong, said the visit by the minister responsible for climate change and environment to the community is timely to build good working relationship to tackle the issues.