(Volcano) Science and Disaster Risk Reduction

All this week the World Conference in Disaster Risk Reduction is happening in Sendai. You may recognise the #WCDRR in your Twitter timeline.

This includes the launch of the UNISDR Science and Technical Advisory Group Report. They conclude that science should be ‘useful, usable and used’ and when that happens its a powerful tool in reducing the impact of hazardous events. The science community can still offer even more by making their information, evidence and monitoring more available and accessible. The Group recommends doing this via knowledge sharing, multidisciplinary approaches and partnerships at many scales. Bravo!


Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)
Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)

USEFUL, USABLE and USED: the monitoring of Tungurahua in Ecuador

One of the case studies used in the Report provides a powerful example of this type of usuable science. The  UNISDR case study focusses on the relationships between the monitoring organisation (IG-EPN) and a network of volcano watchers (vigias) drawn from the villages nearest to the volcano. However, the scientific effort extends far beyond that, and a new open-access paper in the Journal of Applied Volcanology provides a fantastic first-hand record of:

  1.  the data from 15 years of eruptive activity;
  2. the social, political and cultural landscape into which the volcano erupted and
  3.  the experience of that for the scientists involved and the steps they took to cope and to encourage the most effective use of their monitoring data.

The IG-EPN have set up a local observatory (Observatorio del Volcan Tungurahua, OVT), partly thanks to the loan of a local hacienda. Staff provide a sustained presence from Quito on shifts lasting 8 days, this sustained presence has contributed to a turnaround in local attitudes to the monitoring scientists and in turn the utility of the data and intepretations they provide.

“..at the most critical moment [ in 2000] some hotel owners threatened to chase out OVT scientists with machetes and even to set the observatory on fire! (Mothes et. al. 2015)”

The willingness of the IG-EPN to continue to engage via frequent interaction with both local communities and decision-makers in addition to their collaboration with the vigias is a truly inspiring example of making life work for communities around an active volcano. Despite the fact that the scientists involved have numerous volcanic crises to deal with they have taken the time to share their data and experiences to date in this fascinating paper. What a priviledge, you should read it!

“Developing trust between local people, authorities and scientists is mutually beneficial, especially when the mission is long (Mothes et al., 2015)”


Patricia A Mothes*, Hugo A Yepes, Minard L Hall, Patricio A Ramón, Alexander L Steele and Mario C Ruiz (2015) The Scientific-commuity interface over the fifteen-year eruptive episode of Tungurahua Volcano, Ecudaor. Journal of Applied Volcanology 4:9

Aitis-Selmi et al., 2015 UNISDR STAG REPORT 2015 Report: Science is used for disaster risk reduction. http://preventionweb.net/go/42848

PreventionWeb (2015) Scientific and Technical Advisory Group. Online Case Studies Using Science for DRR. http://www.preventionweb.net/files/workspace/7935_7935jstoneecuador.pdf



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