Brussels 2019 - In the past two decades, volcanic activity and wildfires have been some of the least impactful disasters worldwide. This is evident when compared to other types of disasters, such as floods or earthquakes. From 2000 to 2016, volcanic activity and wildfires combined caused 1,648 deaths, affected approximately 5.8 million people, and cost $41 billion in damages. In comparison during the same period, earthquakes resulted in 700,000+ deaths, floods affected 1.5 billion people, and storms caused $802 billion in damages. However, in 2017 and 2018, wildfires and volcanic activity made global headlines as a result of multiple tragedies that took the lives of hundreds and left billions of dollars in damage along the way.
Volcanic activity, which is classified in EM-DAT as a geophysical hazard, occurs regularly throughout certain regions of the world, particularly in an area referred to as the “Ring of Fire” circling the Pacific Ocean. These events do not often cause catastrophes as they are either not severe or are in areas away from human settlement. From 2000-2017, there were 90 volcanic activity disaster events, which killed 665 people and affected 3 million people.
In 2018, mortality from volcanoes resulted in more deaths than all the previous years in the 21st century combined. In June 2018, the Volcan de Fuego Eruption in Guatemala sent volcanic ash and pyroclastic flow into the surrounding communities. The eruption killed 425 people and affected 1.7 million people in the area. The eruption also hampered recovery efforts of the local community by destroying local agriculture, damaging roads and infrastructure, and causing the shutdown of the country’s main airport in Guatemala City.
The Volcan de Fuego Eruption was the deadliest volcanic activity worldwide since 1991, and the deadliest in the Americas since 1985, when an eruption in Colombia killed over 21,000 people.
This eruption in Guatemala alone would have made 2018 the most impactful and deadliest year to date this century. However, in December, the Anak Krakatau volcano erupted off the coast of Java Island in Indonesia. One of the eruption events on Anak Krakatau triggered a tsunami that sent waves onshore to the islands of Java and Sumatra striking in the late evening along coastal settlements. Several villages were destroyed causing a total of 453 deaths and impacting nearly 48,000 people. This tragedy was the second tsunami related disaster of the year in Indonesia, the other triggered by an earthquake off the island of Sulawesi that killed 4,340 people.
The events in 2018 reinforced the threat of volcanic activity throughout the world, and their potential for destruction.