Lessons from the Volcanic Eruptions
April 8, 2022

Lessons from the Volcanic Eruptions

IT IS A welcome development to note the efforts of the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), the Seismic Resource Centre of the UWI, the Government, private sector organisations and community groups to organise activities this week to commemorate the first anniversary of the April 9 eruption of the Soufriere volcano last year. It is welcome because we as a people tend to quickly forget the lessons of our experiences, thus letting slip the opportunity to learn from them.

Last year’s eruption will almost certainly not be the last by our active volcano which has erupted violently on four occasions over the last 120 years. It is therefore critical that we imbue the lessons both from the behaviour of the volcano itself as well as our own responses to it. La Soufriere was not the only volcano in the world to erupt violently last year so additionally, it would also be more than useful to look at the experiences of other affected areas.

The commemorative activities are varied and we extend our appreciation to the organisers for embarking on such exercises. We also thank the Government, UWI-SRC, NEMO, charitable organisations and others who assisted for the management of what was a most challenging task during the period of the eruptions. Whatever the shortcomings, those responsible can feel reasonably pleased with their management of a very difficult task.

It is pleasing to note that the views and experiences of people from the Red and Orange Zones — those directly affected — are being solicited and taken into consideration during the review and analysis process.

There also needs to be detailed documentation and communication of what it took on the national level to respond to the disaster, how we coped with the challenges, and the strains on the national economy occasioned by having to divert scarce resources to this emergency as well as to mobilise and access additional resources.

Not only was the evacuation exercise a massive undertaking, even more exacting was the task of adequately housing and catering for the needs of some 20,000 evacuees. It would be fair comment to say that while these tasks were accomplished competently, it is also true that in the context of political and social pressures there appeared to be a tendency to mollycoddle, especially on the part of the political directorate.

As a result, there was insufficient understanding or appreciation of the responsibilities of evacuees, the limitations on a small society and economy like ours and thus a resort to demands which at times tended to reach ridiculous heights. If anything, our continued efforts at public education need to pay attention to this aspect as well as how better to incorporate those affected in all levels of the management of any such future exercises.