Participatory methods of incorporating scientific with traditional knowledge for volcanic hazard management on Ambae Island, Vanuatu
Ambae Island is the largest of Vanuatu’s active volcanoes. It is also one of the nation’s potentially most dangerous, with 60 million m3 of lake-water perched at over 1340 m in the summit caldera and over the active vent. In 1995, small phreatic explosions, earthquake swarms and heightened gas release led to calls for evacuation preparation and community volcanic hazard awareness programs for the ~9500 inhabitants. Differences in perspective or world-view between the island dwellers adhering to traditional beliefs (Kastom) and external scientists and emergency managers led to a climate of distrust following this crisis. In an attempt to address these issues, rebuild dialogue and respect between communities, outside scientists and administrators, and move forward in volcanic hazard education and planning for Ambae, we adapted and applied Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) approaches. Initial gender-segregated PRA exercises from two representative communities provided a mechanism for cataloguing local traditional viewpoints and hazard perceptions. Ultimately, by combining elements of these viewpoints and perceptions with science-based management structures, we derived volcanic hazard management guidelines, supported by an alert system and map that were more readily accepted by the test communities than the earlier “top-down” plans imposed by outside governmental and scientific agencies. The strength of PRA approaches is that they permit scientists to understand important local perspective issues, including visualisations of volcanic hazards, weaknesses in internal and external communication systems, and gender and hierarchy conflicts, all of which can hinder community emergency management. The approach we describe has much to offer both developing and industrialised communities that wish to improve their awareness programs and mitigative planning. This approach should also enhance communication and understanding between volcanologists and the communities they serve.