The threats of volcanic eruptions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and in Martinique once again bring to light the need for prevention and inter-sectoral cooperation to reduce the risk of disasters.
The potential for eruptions is occurring at a key moment: the pandemic. Measures and policies that have been implemented to control the spread of COVID-19 infection now include the relocation that would have to take place if thousands of people are to be evacuated. An additional factor in the case of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is the dengue fever epidemic currently plaguing the country.
This is not the first time that the Caribbean Region has been forced to confront cumulative risks in recent months. The active 2020 cyclone season required the countries of the region to prepare for hurricanes concurrently with their pandemic response plans, saddled with incompatible measures to protect the population such as the futility of carrying out preventive evacuation using cyclone alerts since social distancing is not compatible with the use of temporary shelters.
“These multiple threats demonstrate the importance of developing robust systems,” says Raúl Salazar, head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean. “We need to follow the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), which views the issue of disaster risk as tied to development and the risks generated by such disasters,” he adds.
The volcanoes, Mt. Pelée in Martinique and La Soufrière in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, have been venting smoke from their fumaroles for several days according to the region’s meteorological warning system. The governments of the two countries continue their respective calculations of the right moment to evacuate the areas, always conscious of the measures being taken to avoid the spread of COVID-19, which has increased in recent weeks both here and in nearly all Latin American countries.
The 2019 Global Assessment Report (GAR) on Disaster Risk Reduction stresses the importance of focusing prevention policies on not only the creation but also the build-up of new risks. It reveals that catastrophes are the cumulative consequences of gradual changes resulting from daily living patterns following inadequate decisions. “The accumulation of risks affects and reverses development gains for generations to come,” the document warns.
La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines last erupted in 1932, while in Martinique, Mt. Pelée’s most recent eruption occurred in 1979. Both of these, however, were active in 1902. That year, the eruption of Mt. Pelée caused the death of nearly 30 thousand people. It also brought generational consequences, creating relocation patterns that altered dynamics throughout the entire region.