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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1 A
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9


  1. Bar-On AA, Prinsen G (1999) Planning, communities and empowerment. An introduction to participatory rural appraisal. Int Soc Work 42:277–294

    Google Scholar 

  2. Blot C, Priam R (1962) Volcanisme ed séismicité dans l’archipel des Nouvelles-Hebrides. ORSTOM, Nouméa, p 20

  3. Chambers R (1992) Rural appraisal: rapid, relaxed and participatory (IDS Discussion Paper 311). Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK, p 68

    Google Scholar 

  4. Chambers R (1994a) Participatory rural appraisal (PRA): challenges, potentials and paradigm. World Dev 22:1437–1454

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Chambers R (1994b) Participatory rural appraisal (PRA): analysis of experience. World Dev 22:1253–1268

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chambers R (1994c) The origins and practice of participatory rural appraisal (PRA). World Dev 22:953–969

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Chambers R (1997) Whose reality counts? Putting the first last. Intermediate Technology, London, p 297

  8. Chambers R (2002) Relaxed and participatory appraisal: notes on participatory approaches and methods for participants in PRA/PLA-related familiarisation workshops. Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK

    Google Scholar 

  9. Cronin SJ, Kaloumaira A (2000) Taveuni volcanic hazards workshops (SOPAC Miscellaneous Report 372). SOPAC, Suva, Fiji, p 42

  10. Cronin SJ, Petterson M, Taylor P, Planitz A (2000a) Report on the workshop on volcanic hazards, operational support planning and awareness programs for Savo Volcano, Solomon Islands (SOPAC Miscellaneous Report 373). SOPAC, Suva, Fiji, p 46

  11. Cronin SJ, Taylor PW, Malele F (2000b) Final report on the Savaii volcanic hazards project, Samoa (SOPAC Technical Report 343). SOPAC, Suva, Fiji, p 34

  12. Crowley T (1995) A new Bislama dictionary. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, p 484

  13. de la Rüe AE (1956) La géologie des Nouvelles-Hebrides. J Soc Océanistes 12:63–98

    Google Scholar 

  14. Esau JW (1997a) Volcanic public awareness strategies for Vanuatu. Proc Workshop on Volcanic hazards and Emergency Management in the South Pacific, Port Vila, Vanuatu, 24–28 February 1997, p 5

  15. Esau JW (1997b) Volcanic alert levels and emergency evacuation plans for Vanuatu. Proc Workshop on Volcanic hazards and Emergency Management in the South Pacific, Port Vila, Vanuatu, 24–28 February 1997, p 15

  16. Garaebiti E (2000) Analyse morphologique des Risques Volcaniques d’Aoba (Vanuatu). Travail d’Etude et de Recherche Maitrise 1999–2000, Départment de Sciences de la Terre, Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, France, p 30

  17. Howorth R, Elaise A (1997) Workshop on volcanic hazards and emergency management in the southwest Pacific, 24–28 February 1997, Port Vila, Vanuatu. SOPAC Misc Rep 245:26

    Google Scholar 

  18. Humble M (1998) Assessing PRA for implementing gender and development. In: Guijt I, Kaul Shah M (eds) The myth of community: gender issues in participatory development. Intermediate Technology, London, pp 35–45

  19. Kapoor I (2002) The devil’s in the theory: a critical assessment of Robert Chambers’ work on participatory development. Third World Q 23:101–117

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Lardy M, Halbwachs M (1996) Proposal for the installation of monitoring equipment on the volcano Lombenben (Ambae Island, Republic of Vanuatu). Notes Techniques, Sciences de la Terre, Geologie-geophysique, 19. ORSTOM, Vanuatu, p 61

  21. Lynch J (1994) An annotated bibliography of Vanuatu languages. Pacific Information Centre and University of the South Pacific Library, Suva, Fiji

  22. Metaxian J-P, Regnier M, Lardy M (1996) Rapport sur la crise du mois de Mars 1995 du Volcan Aoba (République du Vanuatu). Notes Techniques, Sciences de la Terre, Geologie-geophysique, 15. ORSTOM, Vanuatu, p 8 (and appendix)

  23. Monzier M, Robin C (1995) Volcanic hazard map for Aoba Island/Carte des risques volcaniques pour l’Ile d’Aoba (Vanuatu). ORSTOM, Port Vila, Vanuatu

  24. Mosse D (1994) Authority, gender and knowledge: theoretical reflections on the practice of participatory rural appraisal. Dev Change 35:497–525

    Google Scholar 

  25. National Statistics Office (2000) The 1999 Vanuatu national population and housing census: Main Report. National Statistics Office, Port Vila, Vanuatu

    Google Scholar 

  26. Percy R (1999) Gender analysis and participatory rural appraisal: assessing the current debate through an Ethiopian case study involving agricultural extension work. Int J Educ Dev 19:395–408

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Rietbergen-McCracken J, Narayan D (compilers)(1998) Participation and social assessment: tools and techniques. The World Bank, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  28. Robin C, Monzier M, Lardy M, Regnier M, Metaxian J-P, Decourt R, Charley D, Ruiz M, Eissen J-P (1995) Increased steam emissions and seismicity in early March; evacuation preparations made, Aoba, Vanuatu. Bull Global Volcanism Network 20:02

    Google Scholar 

  29. SPDRP (South Pacific Disaster Reduction Program) (1997) Operational support plan: Ambae volcano. UNDP-South Pacific Office Suva, Fiji, p 20

    Google Scholar 

  30. Tariseisei J (1999) Today is not the same as yesterday, and tomorrow it will be different again: Kastom on Ambae, Vanuatu. State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Project, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

  31. Von Kotze A (1998) Monologues or dialogues? Missed learning opportunities in participatory rural appraisal. Convergence 31:47–56

    Google Scholar 

  32. Vrolijks L (1998) Guidelines for community vulnerability analysis: an approach for Pacific Island countries. UNDP-South Pacific Office, Suva, Fiji, p 97

    Google Scholar 

  33. Wallez S (2000) Socio-economic survey of the impact of the volcanic hazards for Ambae Island: geo-hazards mitigation program section. Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources, Port Vila, Vanuatu. p 39

  34. Wallez S, Charley D (2000) Rapport de la Mission sur Ambae (du 14 au 17 juin 2000). Rep 01/00 Geohazard Mitigation Program Section, Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources, Port Vila, Vanuatu, p 10

  35. Warden AJ (1970) Evolution of Aoba caldera volcano, New Hebrides. B Volcanol 34:107–140

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Webber LM, Ison RL (1995) Participatory rural appraisal design: conceptual and process issues. Agr Syst 47:107–131

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Wetmore SB, Theron F (1998) Community development and research: participatory learning and action – a development strategy in itself. Development Southern Africa 15:29–54

    Google Scholar 

  38. Wiart P (1995) Impact et gestion des risques volcaniques au Vanuatu. Notes Techniques, Sciences de la Terre, Geologie-geophysique, 13. ORSTOM, Vanuatu, p 80

  39. Williams CEF, Warden AJ (1964) Progress report of the Geological Survey for 1959–62. New Hebrides Geol Surv Rep, Port Vila, Vanuatu, p 75 pp

  40. Wong FL, Greene HG (1988) Geologic hazards in the central basin region, Vanuatu. In: Greene HG, Wong FL (eds) Geology and offshore resources of Pacific island arcs – Vanuatu Region. Circum-Pacific Council for Energy and Mineral Resources (Earth Science Series 8), Houston, pp 225–249

Download references


We thank UNESCO South Pacific Office for funding this ongoing work, along with Edna Tait and Hans Denker-Thulstrup for their help and advice. In addition, parts of this activity were also supported by NZ Official Development Assistance, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation supported SJC, and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences supported BVA throughout the course of this work. We are grateful to officers of the Vanuatu NDMO, DGMWR, VANGO and Penama Province HQ for the valuable advice and assistance given. We are grateful to K. Cashman for commenting on a pre-submission version of this manuscript, along with C. Newhall and P. Wiart for their helpful reviews and J. McPhie for her supportive editorial assistance.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shane J. Cronin.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cronin, S.J., Gaylord, D.R., Charley, D. et al. Participatory methods of incorporating scientific with traditional knowledge for volcanic hazard management on Ambae Island, Vanuatu. Bull Volcanol 66, 652–668 (2004).

Download citation


  • Participatory Rural Appraisal
  • PRA
  • Community education
  • Volcanic hazard mapping
  • Ambae
  • Vanuatu
  • Emergency management