Ash in the Air!

You may not have noticed but next week is the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (#WCDRR) It’s tagline is ‘Resilient People. Resilient Planet. ’ Its the biggest ‘disasters meeting for a decade and should be a fantastic exposition of ideas and evidence for how to achieve a disaster resilient planet.

Meanwhile, on a relatively small island in the Caribbean we will be enacting some of that theme, by considering how to make communities more resilient to the dirty menace of volcanic ash.

Thanks to a UK NERC IOF Award a multi-disciplinary team of researchers(*) are assembling to investigate how volcanic ash impacts on communities, how predictions of ash dispersal can be improved and how communication and mitigation of the risks can be addressed in order to improve resilience.

We are going to use past and possible future eruptions from Soufriere, St. Vincent to focus our thinking.

In the STREVA project a key theme emerging across our study regions is the role that volcanic ash plays in disrupting lives and livelihoods across all scales: from major disruption of international air traffic to the destruction of individual livelihoods via irreparable damage to crops and livestock or health problems.

As an exemplar you can hear the people of St. Vincent talking about the immediate impacts from the 1979 eruption of Soufriere here.


What we are trying to understand is where the state of the art in the science meets the needs of a population trying to cope with ash;  and where it still comes up wanting. We’re not assuming that volcanic ash is a wholly negative thing; and as researchers want to learn from the affected populations about their coping strategies, past present and future.

To do this we are having two days of scientific discussion followed by a third day where we are meeting with those involved with reducing and mitigating risk as well as the civil aviation authorities, agriculturalists, transport and infrastructure planners who will be on the frontline when the ash begins to fall.

We want to discuss together what will cause the greatest disruption and what improved knowledge and communication processes might help anticipate and solve problems,  and even how to turn ash into an asset in the longer term.

Our thinking should produce some immediate ideas about how this will apply to a future eruption of St. Vincent(**)  but we will also consider general problems and use it to frame new scientific advances in this field.

We hope this is an active  demonstration of how the resilience revolution will arrive; through partnership and collaboration between scientists and the populations affected by the hazards.

You can follow our discussions on @StrevaProject.



(*) Researchers from the UK, Trinidad, Barbados, Belgium and New Zealand are involved in the two day discussion meeting along with practitioners and planners from St. Kitts, Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad along with around 30 key stakeholders from St. Vincent coming to our ash workshop, including the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) on St. Vincent who have helped us with the organization.

(**) Immediately following our workshop is the St. Vincent ‘Country Conference on ‘Promoting a Culture of Safety: Building Resilience to Disasters and Stimulating   Sustainable Development’ where we will present our initial findings and some of our broader work on the STREVA Project.

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