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Volcanic risk mitigation workshop at Galeras: listening to the locals 11 July 2009

Posted by admin in Colombia, Galeras, natural hazards.
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Galeras, 20 February 2009, 15.29. Image from INGEOMINAS - Pasto (copyright INGEOMINAS)

Galeras in south-western Colombia is a highly active volcano, and thousands of people are potentially at risk from the harmful effects of its activity. Since the beginning of this year alone, Galeras has erupted on 14 and 20 February, 13 March, 24 April (twice), 29 April, 7 June and 8 June.

The repeated increases in activity and frequent eruptions are accompanied by evacuation orders affecting thousands of local residents – some 10,000 people live in the designated ‘high-risk’ zone around the volcano, including thousands in the nearby city of Pasto. However, the evacuation orders are invariably ignored by the overwhelming majority of those affected. Local residents are used to the volcano and don’t believe it poses any danger to them, they are indifferent to the alerts and warnings of the authorities, and they are reluctant to leave their properties, crops and animals unattended.

The Colombian emergency authorities are increasingly concerned, not to say exasperated, by the reluctance of the people living around Galeras to take warnings about the volcano’s activity seriously. In a commendable attempt to educate local residents about volcanic risks and the importance of heeding warnings about volcanic activity, the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Universidad de Nariño (with support from the National Science Founation) are currently holding a workshop on ‘knowledge sharing and collaboration in volcanic risk mitigation’ in Pasto involving not just geologists, local government and emergency services but the local population: ‘Our hope is that through the presentations by scientists and crisis management experts about what has happened at other volcanoes, and by using some visual tools, like computational modeling of mud and debris flows, we can help people living around the volcano better understand the hazard they live with’, says Buffalo geology professor and volcanologist Michael Sheridan.

It will be interesting to see how successful this attempt at outreach is, and what the outcomes are. There are many cases of ‘alert fatigue’ making populations in areas of high volcanic risk reluctant to evacuate when warnings are given. Effective education about the nature of volcanic hazards and the threats they pose is one vital element in combating this potentially dangerous situation; another, as this workshop appears to recognize, is listening to local people, and understanding and engaging with the reasons why people do not take warnings seriously.

For all our Galeras coverage: Galeras « The Volcanism Blog.

The Volcanism Blog