Social Impacts of Volcanic Eruptions: Soufriere Hills Volcano

 

cropped-streva2_bigger.jpgOne of the core aims of the STREVA Project is to use learning from past eruptions to better anticipate impacts and interactions from future activity. Sounds super-logical and simple. It’s not quite that easy: taking a ‘forensic’ approach (trying to gather evidence from a variety of different sources and disciplines) is a wrigglier, harder-to-pin-down process, than you might imagine.

Part of the STREVA process has involved learning about each other's perspectives. We are especially fond of making social scientists study field geology.
Part of the STREVA process has involved learning about each other’s perspectives. We are especially fond of making social scientists study field geology.

Data that you thought might be lurking under the metaphorical unturned stone melts away in the daylight, re-collection and facts can shape-shift as a function of how you pose the questions, and sometimes there is just so _much_ data its hard to know where to start.  No matter!

 

Another important part of the STREVA process is to bring those with direct experience of living with the eruption together with the scientists to discuss impacts.
Another important part of the STREVA process is to bring those with direct experience of living with the eruption together with the scientists to discuss impacts.

So, the last few weeks have seen a bit of a quiet ‘ta-dah’ moment for STREVA: some of the first papers from the ‘forensic process’ on Montserrat have started to appear in print.  As means of celebration here is my brief summary of their findings for two plus – for those of you interested in the social impacts of such a long-lived eruption my best attempt to provide a library of other worthwhile reading – these new papers have built on an already considerable body of work.

 Paper 1: All is not equal in an eruption

A key starting point in STREVA is that most of the drivers of risk are dynamic, and they will change in response to changing activity.  The  ‘trick’ with our analysis is determine which drivers make the biggest differences under what circumstance.

Remarkably, relatively little work has been done on social vulnerability during the Soufriere Hills eruptions and less still on the long term trajectory of this variable.  . The ‘vulnerability’ team tackled this by mapping out the outcomes of events for the population of Montserrat, then focussing in on some of the most vulnerable individuals.

Annotated visualisation of the time-series analytical component of vulnerability. Major volcanic, social and political events are shown. Dates and details of evacuations are outlined on the right of the image. The five phases of volcanic activity are shown at the bottom of the image. While there is no scale (or x-axis) to this diagram, the ‘lenses’ signify population movements and economic growth. From Hicks and Few (2015)
Annotated visualisation of the time-series analytical component of vulnerability. Major volcanic, social and political events are shown. Dates and details of evacuations are outlined on the right of the image. The five phases of volcanic activity are shown at the bottom of the image. While there is no scale (or x-axis) to this diagram, the ‘lenses’ signify population movements and economic growth. From Hicks and Few (2015)

Volcanoes can be devastating; it does not matter if you have a crown upon your head when a pyroclastic flow comes calling, if you are in the way, you will die.

However, no-one spends the entirety of a volcanic eruption in the direct pathway of an oncoming density current. So, pre-existing inequalities had a role to play beyond the emergency, particularly in driving individuals back to the land to farm. In essence fewer ‘livelihoods assets’ prior to the eruption constrained options for adaptation to new conditions. The most vulnerable in this sense were: evacuees in long-term shelter accomodation; poorer non-migrants who re-settled in the north and assisted passage migrants to the UK. Stress was a unifying theme across all of these groups.

Trajectories did shift, for example, the capacity for some people to cope tumbled when they found themselves having to pay mortgages on abandoned homes; and there has been some upwards social mobility for those re-located in the UK with access to a wider job market.

The eruption in its initial stages was a great leveller but very soon the unequal playing field onto which it erupted had a strong role to play in individual outcomes.

Paper 1: Hicks, A. and Few, R. (2015) Trajectories of social vulnerability during the Soufriere Hills volcanic crisis. Journal of Applied Volcanology. 4:10

Paper 2: Learning from a crisis that lasts longer than a political lifecycle

Following the initial crisis period on Montserrat, which culminated in a series of devastating pyroclastic density currents that killed 19 people and injured several more (see Paper 1 above and Loughlin et al., 2002 for how and why this happened) there was a well publicised review of the UK Governmental Response known as the ‘Clay Report’ (after the first author) published in 1999.  Since then there have been several papers by Amy Donovan that have focussed on the interaction between the science of forecasting future activity and policy making (e.g. Donovan and Oppenheimer, 2014,  Donovan et al., 2013)  but little else that has looked at how governance has shaped and been shaped by the volcanic activity.

The paper maps out the chains of decision-making and the nature and impact of these governance processes across the whole length of the eruption to examine the extent to which the process of the disaster helped to shape or even transform preparedness or adaptations to volcanic activity in this complex governance environment.

In small island states disasters on this scale inevitably need external support; the effectiveness of that support depends on good coordination; and in turn should inspire rapid transformation and adaptation to the new circumstances.

Speaking of transformation; Montserrat has now had 5 years without new magma appearing at the surface of Soufriere Hills and recovery should be taking root. A country well worth a visit.

Paper 2: Wilkinson, E. (2015) Beyond the volcanic crisis: co-governance of volcanic risk on Montserrat. Journal of Applied Volcanology, 4:3

These references below focus entirely on the social impacts of the eruption, not including physical health impacts. 

Open Access: 

Clay E, Barrow C, Benson C, Dempster J, Kokelaar P, Pillai N, Seaman J (1999) An evaluation of HMG’s response to the Montserrat volcanic emergency, 2 vols. Evaluation report EV635. Department for International Development, London.

This is ‘The Clay Report’

Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C. (2014) “Science, policy and place in volcanic disasters: insights from Montserrat“, Environmental Science and Policy 39:150-161

Sword-Daniels V, Wilson TM, Sargeant S, Rossetto T, Twigg J, Johnston DM, Loughlin SC, Cole PD (2013) Consequences Of Long-Term Volcanic Activity For Essential Services In Montserrat: Challenges, Adaptations And Resilience. In: Wadge G, Voight B, Robertson R (eds) The Eruption Of Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat From 2000 To 2010, Geological Society, London.

Commentaries, Books and individual accounts:

Brown, L. (2015) Montserrat, the volcano and me: 20 years with an active volcano. Amazon e-book.

An eyewitness account of the early days of the eruption with some further accounts as time rolls on.

Greenaway, S. (2011) Montserrat in England: the dynamics of culture (e-book).

A mixture of personal recollections combined with collective experiences of those re-located in the UK and re-visiting Montserrat., uses some data from a Masters thesis.

O’Garro  (2004) Montserrat on my mind: tales from Montserrat. Paperback. Authorhouse.

Pattullo P (2000) Fire from the mountain: the tragedy of Montserrat and the betrayal of its people. Constable, London. OpenURL

A  generally well researched reconstruction,  by journalist Polly Patullo, now apparently out of print -or at least the copies are going for a lot of money!

Possekel, A. (1999) Living with the unexpected: linking disaster recovery to sustainable development on Montserrat. e-book. Springer-Verlag

Hiding Behind Academic Paywalls

Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M., “Science at the policy interface: Volcano-monitoring technologies and volcanic hazard management” Bulletin of Volcanology 74(5): 1005-1022 doi:10.1007/s00445-012-0581-5

Hill L (2014) Life after the volcano: the embodiment of small island memories and efforts to keep Montserratian culture alive in Preston, UK. Area 46(2):146-153 doi: 10.1111/area.12084

Kokelaar, B.P. Setting, chronology and consequences of the eruption of Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat (1995-1999) (2002) Geological Society, London, Memoirs21:143,doi:10.1144/GSL.MEM.2002.021.01.02

Overview of the eruption and the scientific response from one of the co-authors on the Clay Report

S. C. LoughlinP. J. Baxter,  W. P. Aspinall,  B. Darroux,  C. L. Harfordand A. D. Miller (2002)  Eyewitness accounts of the 25 June 1997 pyroclastic flows and surges at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, and implications for disaster mitigation Geological Society, London, Memoirs21:211230,doi:10.1144/GSL.MEM.2002.021.01.10

.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s