River water quality testing in Vanuatu


The Democratic Republic of Vanuatu, formally known as the New Hebrides, became an independent state in 1980 after being governed jointly by France and the United Kingdom.

Located in the South Pacific, Vanuatu is an archipelago of over 80 volcanic islands and submarine volcanoes stretching over 1100km from North to South. The total land area is more than 12,281 sq km with an expansive sea border comprising an Exclusive Economic Zone of 680,000 sq km.

There are six main island groups comprising the country’s six provinces, with thirteen islands considered significant in terms of size, economy and population. Nine of the major islands are home to active volcanoes.

With a population of approximately 224,000 people of which 80% live outside of the two main urban centres of Port Vila and Luganville. Inter-island and intra-island travel and communication is difficult and expensive in Vanuatu. Having large volcanic islands with rugged terrain and tropical forest means that villages tend to be scattered and separated over large distances.

Vanuatu is one of the most culturally diverse countries with 113 languages and innumerable dialects. There are four main cultural areas of chiefly systems of traditional governance. In the Northern areas there are two variations of political and cultural society where men and women can ‘purchase’ positions of status. In the central areas, Polynesian type systems, where a hereditary chief is a powerful authority figure, dominate. In the Southern islands, titles or names are bestowed on certain men, designating them as chiefs. Women have a very low status in these areas, whereas in places like Ambae and the Shepherds, women can achieve the rank of chief.

Vanuatu has a dualistic economy, with a large smallholder subsistence agricultural sector and a small but growing monetised sector. Small scale agriculture provides for over 65% of the population.

The climate varies from wet tropical in the Northern islands to dryer sub tropical in the South with an average annual rainfall ranging from 4000mm to 1500mm. The larger mountainous islands have good ground and surface water resources whilst low lying islands have limited fresh ground water in shallow aquifers.

Vanuatu is highly vulnerable to a number of natural hazards, including tropical cyclones, storm surge, coastal and river flooding, drought, earthquakes, land-slides, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Land is a significant issue in Vanuatu where only Indigenous custom owners and their descendants can own land and rules of custom form the basis of ownership and use of land. The modernization of the Vanuatuan economy has seen a rapid increase in land leases for economic development activities such as cattle grazing, tourism, real estate and mono-cropping. Past experiences have shown that the ability to protect and support the rights of custom land owners and minimize impact on the natural environment is limited.

Climate change is one of the most significant challenges impacting on the land, natural resources and people of Vanuatu. Changes in rainfall distribution are impacting on agricultural production and saltwater intrusion into shallow groundwater aquifers, contamination of water supplies by run-off from flooding and volcanic eruptions and droughts mean many villages have to live with shortages of access to safe drinking water more often.

Water, sanitation and hygiene are important issues impacting on the health and livelihoods of people in Vanuatu, as is the decline in biodiversity and availability of natural resources used to sustain the daily lives of people in rural and remote communities.

Live & Learn Vanuatu

The Vanuatu office of Live & Learn was established in 2001 and forms part of a regional network of Live & Learn offices across Melanesia.

Live & Learn has a good understanding of cultural and communication processes and community and institutional organisations in Vanuatu which allows for effective knowledge and skills transfer, empowerment and sustainability of the projects & activities it undertakes.

Effective working relationships with government institutions in Vanuatu have been developed based on delivery of practical outcomes-focussed projects that transfer knowledge & skills and support increased access and participation in government services and programs. These are reflected in partnership agreements and Memorandum’s of Understanding to develop and implement priority programs and projects with the Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Environment, National Advisory Committee on Climate Change, Department of Quarantine & Livestock, Department of Forestry and the Department of Agriculture.

Live & Learn is a key non-government environmental organisation in Vanuatu that participates in a range of activities and contributes to policy development and review and consultation processes and routinely fulfils the role of public awareness and education within or complementary to government projects. Live & Learn often undertakes work where the Vanuatu Government lacks the resources to do so.

Live & Learn also maintains strong working relationships with civil society organisations in Vanuatu and has a strong ethic of information-sharing to complement other sector-based development programs.

The strong government, civil society and community relationships that Live & Learn has established provide a unique opportunity to contribute to achieving sustainable development goals in Vanuatu.

Live & Learn Vanuatu is working to achieve outcomes from projects under the following Priority Program Areas:

  1. Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH)
  2. Sustainable Management of Biodiversity
  3. Climate Change & Energy
  4. Natural Resource Management Based Conflict Management
  5. Environmental Governance
  6. Waste Management and Minimisation
  7. Health, Population and HIV
  8. Integrated Programs & Cross Cutting Issues