Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, on 9 April 2021 the La Soufrière volcano started erupting on the main island of Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, causing the displacement of about 20,000 people, devastating the livelihoods of Vincentians and significantly impacting the environment in the Eastern Caribbean.
On 8 April 2021, the Government of Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) began evacuating populations living in the high risk areas to the La Soufrière volcano in the northern part of the main island due to increased volcanic activity. The volcano entered an eruptive stage the following day, affecting populations, assets, and infrastructure.
Due to the explosions, ashfall and pyroclastic flows have already damaged crops and livestock, creating immediate humanitarian needs and heavily impacting the environment.
As the last eruption was recorded on 22 April, on 6 May the Government of SVG decided to lower the volcanic alert level from red to orange, meaning that the volcano can still resume explosions with less than twenty-four-hour notice. Consequently, some evacuated residents from low risk zones can return home, whereas the evacuation order for the high risk areas closest to the volcano remains in place. The already severe situation in SVG has only been further complicated by heavy rainfall in late April which brought intense flooding, landslides, and mud flows, posing an additional hazard threat to a vulnerable population still reeling from the impacts of the volcanic eruption.
While no casualties have been reported so far, the entire population of about 110,000 people in SVG has been affected, with 16,000-20,000 people evacuated from about 30 villages expected to be most affected.
With official numbers likely to fluctuate, as of 9 May, more than 23,000 displaced people have been officially registered: about 19,000 of them are staying in private households, while some 4,400 have sought refuge in 84 public shelters. Neighboring states have offered to receive evacuees from SVG, while some Eastern Caribbean states such as Barbados, St. Lucia and Dominica have also been affected by ashfall.
Ongoing assessments, relief, ash cleaning and recovery efforts are complicated by the ongoing volcanic activity and the constraints placed on the operational response by the pandemic. The eruptive process is likely to last for weeks or even months, with the fast-approaching hurricane season just around the corner.
Preliminary impact assessment
While more detailed and specific damage and needs assessments are still being conducted, preliminary analysis shows that the northern part of the island has been severely affected, with crops covered in ash, houses destroyed, and roads blocked.
The most pressing humanitarian needs include access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation, personal protective equipment and supplies, emergency food assistance, interventions in health, protection, including gender-based violence and child protection, shelter and education, as well as livelihood support for recovery/rehabilitation. The lack of safe water for drinking and basic sanitation is a major concern as well as the reduced national capacities for a medium and longerterm recovery.
Broader information on the preexisting situation in the country
SVG is recovering from its largest COVID-19 surge and the worst dengue outbreak in recent history. Prior to the eruption of La Soufrière, poverty was already expected to worsen significantly due to the impact of COVID-19 on livelihoods, diminishing the coping capacity and resilience of affected people. Most employment depends on agriculture, fisheries, and tourism; sectors which have been severely affected by the pandemic and are now bearing the consequences of the volcanic eruption.