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Machín volcano: disaster prevention in Colombia 4 September 2009

Posted by admin in Colombia, Machín, natural hazards.
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‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’, said the always quotable Benjamin Franklin in 1735. The principle applies to natural disasters as it does to other areas of life: it is surely better to prevent a catastrophe than have to pay for clearing up afterwards. The practical application, however, can present problems, for how is a volcanic eruption to be prevented? The answer is that it can’t, but its potential for disaster can be reduced by, for example, evacuating nearby at-risk populations so that an eruption does not turn into a disaster. This is one of the preventive strategies being followed in Colombia.

The government of Colombia has prioritized three potential natural disasters as targets for a strategy of prevention: an earthquake in the national capital, Bogotá, a Pacific tsunami, and an eruption of Machín volcano. Cerro Machín is in central western Colombia and overlooks the city of Ibagué (population approximately 500,000), 17 km to the east. The last eruption was about 800 years ago. Any new activity would pose considerable dangers for Ibagué and surrounding agricultural areas – and recently Machín has been showing signs of restlessness, with increased seismicity and some ash emission late last year provoking widespread alarm, and a further earthquake swarm at the end of July this year.

The authorities in Colombia aim to reduce the hazard potential of Machín by carrying out a comprehensive survey of the volcano and its surroundings, identifying areas of high danger and establishing evacuation routes, educating the local population about volcanic hazards, and moving people away from the volcano. The local (Tolima) edition of the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports that the programme of buying local farmers out of their properties in areas threatened by volcanic hazards is under way, but that there are legal problems over land titles. An ‘inventory of facilities and physical resources’ has been completed (which presumably includes the identification of evacuation routes) and education efforts are progressing, but are handicapped by lack of money: ‘one of the obstacles encountered is the lack of finance (about 100 million pesos) for the distribution of a booklet that allows the population under threat just to identify the evacuation routes’.

Erupción del Volcán Machín se encuentra entre las tres prioridades nacionales de prevenciónEl Tiempo, 4 September 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Machín – information about Machín volcano (1501-04=)
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Manizales – INGEOMINAS observatory responsible for monitoring Machín
Volcán Machín – information, maps and pictures

The Volcanism Blog