The seriously dangerous trek to Bigbay Inland in central Santo which includes a marathon 48 river crossings could cost lives if urgent road repairs are not carried out, locals have warned.
Vanuatu Mobile Force Officer in Luganville, Private Samuel Bani told VBTC News that it’s been a longtime need for the Bigbay Inland people since the 1990’s.
Mr Bani was one of the force members who had to travel longer hours with the ballot box to Vunameleus so people could vote during the recent snap election.
“A four hour drive by truck and sleep for a night at Whitegrass(Santo Middle Bush) then the next morning we had to walk one hour to the pasis and another seven to nine hours to the polling station; we had to cross the Jordan River 48 times,” he said.
“One of my collegues had to cross that river 90 times because he had to go to Tampuri; another very remote area.
“It’s really a hard journey for us because crossing the Jordan River with the ballot boxes is not easy, ” he said.
“I know it’s our job but because the roads are really bad, you have to sacrifice and risk your life crossing the river climbing and going down big mountains. We all experience foot and knee pains because of the injuries we get by stamping on big rocks when crossing the river.
“We had our mobile F1 bag filled with few clothes, match and some biscuit crackers on our backs the all time and the ballox box in the containers.
“It’s also sad for the locals because they told us that without proper roads our lives are really difficult especially for the pregnant mamas and other people who urgently needs medical care.
“We were told that when there is heavy rain, the tide is much stronger when crossing the river and some have even died crossing.”
Mr Bani said it is sad because many of the political parties don’t do their campaign in Bigbay Inland because they knew it’s a tough journey going up.
He said Vanuatu is a democratic country where everyone including disabled persons have individual rights that they can exercise at times. Sadly Mr Bani said this people have suffered for a longtime.
“We force members can’t continue carrying ballot boxes with no proper roads,” Mr Bani said.
“So we were told by the locals that many of the political campaigners saw them in Luganville and had to pass on their posters to them to take up so people can decide who they can vote for without an actual campaign,” he said.
“There are no proper polling stations as well.”
He also said access from network communication is challenging.
“People had to walked up the mountains for 30-45 minutes to get only vodafone coverage,” he said.
“There is no digicel network.”
Mr Bani said on their way back to Luganville they had to walk back to the pasis because they missed the helicopter flight that was schedule to pick them up due to poor network coverage.
“We wait for the people to vote on Thursday and we sleep another night on Friday then arrived back in Luganville on Saturday,” he said.
Sanma Electoral Officer, Henry David said in Saktui- Vatia Polling station where Vunameleus is, there are 178 registered voters.
He said in Tampuri a total of 166 registered voters.
Steeve Ayong, a VBTC reporter based in Luganville for six years, has been going to Bigbay Inland since 2016 and said most of the villagers there haven’t heard the sound of a plane or an helicopter.
“In 2020, I followed a team who were conducting a survey of TC Harold recovery,” he said.
“We came on a helicopter, it was quite funny and strange because a cow heard the sound of the helicopter so it ran and injured a little child so we had to medivac the child and his parents to Luganville for treatment.
“Bigbay Inland is one of Sanma’s biggest areas.”
Mr Bani is urging the authorities responsible to pay a closer look at these people who are really in need of a good safe road.
He also stressed that he wanted to see politicians stop giving out too much rice and kapa.
Corporal David Amos and Private David Arksai joined Mr Bani on that tough journey to Bigbay Inland.