South Santo calls for urgent road improvements

Poor road conditions in many remote parts of Vanuatu are a grave concern for many.

And, in South Santo Area One, the main public road is creating real hardship.

More than 50 communities use the road daily to travel to Santo’s capital, Luganville, Vanuatu’s second largest town.

Chief Livo Vatu from Pakataura Village in South Santo Area One, says the main road has been in poor condition for the past five years.

“We have no choice but to travel on this road during emergencies,” Chief Vatu said.

“If a pregnant woman cannot deliver her baby at her local health centre, we have to use this road to get her to Luganville.

“And, the same applies for victims of serious accidents that need to get to the main hospital in Luganville.

“This is the public road we use every day to get to Luganville Town,” the chief said, pointing to a pile of mud, stones and a pool of water on the road.

There are rivers with no proper bridges and some with no bridges at all.

Chief Vatu says during heavy rains and flash floods these rivers go wild.

“I call on the Government through the Public Works Department to maintain our road,” he said.

“We are now constructing our Sanma Provincial Government area council house which is part of the Government’s decentralisation policy, but our roads must also be fixed – they are an essential service.”

He says chiefs in the communities along South Santo Area One’s main road have called many times on the Public Works Department in Luganville to fix the road, but there has been no action.

“We have no other roads to use,” he said.

“During heavy rains and flash floods, we cannot do anything.

“Some vehicles try to cross flooded rivers at their own risk, sometimes we stay in the village and wait for the rivers to go down so we can travel to town.”

Masten Memelivo, a transport driver from Pakataura Village, says transporting people to town each day is a struggle.

“I once drove a sick patient to town and it was raining and rivers were flooded. We came to Maniao River, it was flash flooding heavily and I could not cross it,” he told VBTC.

“The patient was seriously ill and we lost him while waiting for the river to go down. So, I had to drive back with a dead body.”

Mr Memelivo says to help fix the issue, the Government’s plan to tar seal the South Santo Road needs to implemented.

In 2020, the World Bank approved a US$35.5 million loan and a US$30.5 million grant to support an upgrade and tar seal of the vital 65-kilometre South Santo Road.

The Vanuatu Government says rehabilitating the South Santo Road is a priority, and South Santo Road Project design engineers from Korea Consultants International have begun scoping works on the road.

Once scoping is done, construction will commence and should take around two to three years to complete.

Vanuatu is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters. It has been hard-hit by cyclones, drought, flooding and subsequent landslides in recent years, all of which are expected to become more intense due to climate change.

When disasters do occur, transport systems, and especially river crossings and roads on the perimeters of islands, often bear a large share of the damage.

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