The consequences of the volcano La Soufriere eruption

Image from a village after the eruption The ash flowing into the rivers contaminate the drinking water.

On 9th of April 2021 La Soufriere in St Vincent and the Grenadines erupted sending rocks in the form of ash plume 10- 15 km up in the air.
The last explosion, the 32nd, that La Soufrière has released since April 9, began at 11:09am on April 22, and lasted for about 20 minutes, with the vertical explosive plume reaching a height of about 8km. This event was accompanied by high-level seismic tremor.
The volcano alert level remains at red, the eruption in ongoing, and La Soufrière is still very dangerous.

The app. 16.000 people who have been evacuated don't know how long time they will stay away from their home – this uncertainty is hard to live with. About one fifth of the population of St Vincent and the Grenadines has been evacuated – 4.500 staying in 87 shelters activated by the National Emergency Management Organization, NEMO as well as with relatives and friends; this eruption has impacted the whole population.

Whole communities have been swept away, farms gone; tree crops stripped bare, reminding people of Hurricane Thomas in 2010.
Both primary and secondary forests are all gone close to the Soufrière volcano.
Tree crops have been denuded. In some cases, their stems are standing - like sour sop, coconut, breadfruit and mangos; plantains and bananas, are gone.
When it comes to root crops like arrowroot, the ash fall in some areas is so deep that all vegetation is covered whether it’s arrowroot, yam, tania, dasheen, ginger, you name it – there’s not a single leaf on the outside on some of these farms. There is not going to be much food in those areas.

According to Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labor:
Food security in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has come under threat following the eruption of the Soufrière volcano, creating “a significant need for imports”.

  • The entire country is blanketed in ash, there are regions that have no drinking water, even as the administration is studying the possibility of suspending planned exports of Vincentian products next week.
  • Some government-owned agricultural equipment from the red zone (closest to the volcano) was salvaged as well as some transfer of cattle to safe zones.
  • Nonetheless, most animals are “trapped in the red zone” and as far as crops are concerned, the country will have to “start from scratch”, once the situation normalizes.
  • The zones closest to the volcano are the main agricultural areas. We are talking about more than 80%.
  • Fish stock is also considered to be lost, due to the ash that has been affecting the entire region.
  • The damage and loss calculations cannot yet be done, as the volcanic activity is continuing. However, they will be extensive and serious, both for the economy and for the health of the population.
  • Each time there is an eruption; everything remaining from the previous eruptions is destroyed by the new one. The destruction continues, St Vincent and the Grenadines is considered “the breadbasket of the Southern Caribbean”, due to its extensive farming areas and agrifood products that up to now were facilitating national consumption and exports of different types of livestock, as well as fruits, vegetables and fish.

The education system has suffered further delays due to the volcanic eruption, leaving the Ministry of Education to seek out solutions to recover from its academic losses since the start of the year.
Students were supposed to return to the classroom since the start of 2021, as schools remained closed in January due to community spread and a spike in COVID19 cases.
“Unfortunately, the eruption happened and we had to once again defer face to face instruction. Now, this has significant implications for the broad education system, yes, but an immediate factor is that of the annual examinations that we have and I’m speaking more so of the external exams,” Curtis King, the Minister of Education said this week as he gave an update on the situation.

A donation of 6,000 tablets were given to the Ministry of Education and these will first and foremost go to the children in the shelters, but online education is not the same as face to face.

The air quality is a hazard and could cause long-term health problem for asthmatics and others with chronic health conditions.

The ash flowing into the rivers contaminate the drinking water. The Central water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA) has a huge task on its hands and is working tirelessly to resolve the problem. In addition to the essential requirements mentioned here, there is the responsibility for garbage collection and disposal, even more critical on a day-to-day basis. The CWSA and its workers have to brave the conditions of our mountainous terrain which presents obstacles towards the maintenance of normal supplies and with the volcano threat, can be very hazardous.
One of the ironies of life in volcano-affected St Vincent today is that we are overwhelmed with dust, increasing thirst and the absolute need for cleaning, yet water is not readily available. We are fortunate to have good public utility services especially water and electricity, but these can be, and are disrupted by natural disasters. Both have become victims to the effects of the volcanic eruptions.

Mudflows from the volcano - Mr. Richard Robertson, lead scientist explained: “You have a lot of deposits up at the summit and we’d expect that as rains come, as we get into the rainy season, whatever else happens at the volcano, one of the hazards that are going to become more pronounced or more likely are mud flows. There may be flooding of lower areas, damage to houses, and bridges. The thick muddy river, when it comes down the mountainside, will be “bringing all the blocks, pieces of vegetation and everything that the volcano has destroyed on the summit and just resting in the ground.”

This can further contaminate the water as well as be dangerous to life.

Heavy Ash weighing down houses and buildings making them collapse. Lots of buildings and infrastructure have suffered damage in Saint Vincent.

Rebuild La Soufriere damaged red zone - Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves
It is little wonder that PM Ralph Gonsalves is adamant that he will set about the business of the rehabilitation of the affected areas.
“There are persons who are saying that you should declare north of the dry river a disaster area and don't do anything up there”.
“Let people just go inside there and maybe they could grow crops and raise animals. And let anybody live life below and do the same thing at Chateaubelair, Fitz Hughes and Richmond and declare them – some even says Petit Bordel. You know that doesn't make sense; for several reasons but one big one – as far as the Labour Party is concerned, north of the dry river that is the soul of this nation. The Garifuna and the Kalinago and all they represent”.


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Else Marie Pedersen, St Vincent and the Grenadines

Evacuation and relief efforts
The Eruption of La Soufriere 2021