Overjoyed at the emergency rehabilitation of Bauerfield International Airport, Vanuatu’s gateway for travelers, Linda Kalpoi, the general manager of the Vauatu Tourism Office, was in buoyant spirits as she attended the May 6 ceremony announcing the repair’s completion.
Vanuatu yearned for good news. Still recovering from Cyclone Pam’s devastation in March 2015, it was hit by political turmoil after the unprecedented conviction of 14 members of Parliament in October 2015. Then, on January 22, 2016 – the same day Ni-Vanuatu citizens were casting ballots for a snap election – Air New Zealand suspended flights due to safety concerns over the runway condition. Qantas and Virgin Australia followed suit a week later. With only a few airlines still operating, the country lost a sizeable chunk of international tourists.
Airport planning in Vanuatu has long been fraught with differing opinions and priorities. Multiple governments with conflicting visions for developing international air transport, as well frequent changes to the staff and leadership of Airports Vanuatu Ltd (AVL), had left the runway in critical need of repair.
During a recent ‘Justice for the Poor’ mission to Vanuatu, our team had an illuminating meeting with a group of forty village chiefs in a community hall. The chiefs are the primary source of order and justice across the many islands within the archipelago. Most of them have received little, if any, formal education, their authority resting on their traditional status within the community.