The Harm from Volcanoes Lasts Long After They Erupt

New research shows most deaths from volcanoes happen at least a week after it erupted.
Donna Fuscaldo
Erupting volcano pxhidalgo/iStock 

Across the globe, close to 800 million people live within 100 kilometers of one of the 1,431 active volcanoes.

While many people think the danger is over shortly after a volcano erupts, new research from Frontiers in Earth Science shows there is a lasting effect that harms the health of scores of people.


Danger from a volcano eruptions could last weeks, years 

According to the researchers most volcanoes emit pulses of gas and solids for as long as seven weeks after the eruption, although it can happen for years or decades in some instances. 

Despite the long-lasting risks, many people return to normal activities shortly after the volcano erupts or refuse to leave the danger zone, even if warnings are issued. They do so at their own peril. 

The researchers looked at the circumstances of human deaths from all volcano eruptions across the globe over a thirty-year period and engaged in detailed interviews of people who experienced volcanic activity that lasted for a prolonged period of time in Latin America and the Carribean.

Most deathers occurred a week or more after an eruption 

The researchers found that 70% of the fatalities that were attributed to a volcano erupting happened a week or more after the initial event. Through the analysis and interviews, they found 75% of the deaths occurred inside a zone that people were asked to leave following the volcano. Of those that stayed, more than 90% did so to protect their homes or continue to engage in activities that were necessary for their livelihood such as farming. Deaths over the years were also blamed on difficult conditions in shelters after the eruption of a volcano. 

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Alternatives to maintain livelihoods need to be included in evacuation plans

In order to reduce the risk to people living near active volcanoes, the researchers said promoting awareness of the risks associated with volcanoes after they erupt is necessary but isn't enough to ensure the safety of people. Evacuation strategies have to take into account ways to reduce the long-term impact it will have on people's ability to earn a wage or put food on the table. One way to do that suggested the researchers is for authorities to provide an alternative pasture for animals. 

"The main implication from our analysis is that those coping with volcanic risk should move away from frameworks that express zero tolerance for the loss of life as a central goal to ones that recognize the ‘minimization of risk,’" wrote the researchers in a report. " Such frameworks should place a focus on the best possible life outcomes in the face of volcanic activity, recognizing that risk to life is also minimized by ensuring positive outcomes for livelihoods, wellbeing, and security."

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