In managing vulnerability to natural disasters, with case studies of volcanic disasters on non-industrialized islands

Table 9-3: Examples of Volcanologists Killed by Volcanoes


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Table 9-3: Examples of Volcanologists Killed by Volcanoes

(from Kerr, 1993; Rowland, 1998)



Total Killed

Volcanologists Killed


Hekla, Iceland

no information



Kelut, Indonesia




Myojin-sho, Japan




Karkar, New Guinea




Mount Saint Helens, U.S.A.




El Chichón, Mexico




Klyuchevskaya, Russia

no information



Mount Unzen, Japan




Lokon-Umpong, Indonesia




Mutnovskaya, Russia

no information



Galeras, Colombia




Guagua Pichincha, Ecuador




Drawing conclusions about casualty trends in volcanic disasters is tenuous, due to discrepancies and contradictions between sources and large gaps in the data. Systematic recording of volcanic eruptions and casualties did not occur until the 20th century, prompted by two devastating disasters in the Caribbean in 1902 (see Table 9-1). Many eruptions in previous years were unknown until decades after, and even in the 20th century “the two largest drops in apparent volcanism coincided with the two World Wars, when observers (and editors) were preoccupied with other things” (Simkin, 1994). Simkin (1994) also points out that observed volcanism has steadily increased since the 18th century at about the same rate as global population increase, yet the frequency of large eruptions--which are the least likely to go unobserved irrespective of population--has been constant.

The number of people highly vulnerable to volcanoes, though, is increasing and the potential for an unprecedented catastrophe exists. Some of the largest cities in the world, including Mexico City and Tokyo, sit beside active volcanoes. Possible volcanic disasters not yet encountered by society could be an eruption in Antarctica precipitating widespread melting of the ice cap and subsequent sea-level rise (Monastersky, 1993), and volcanic ash causing an airplane crash, as alluded to in footnote 2 in section 9.2.7. As well, if global climate warming occurs, there might be a corresponding increase in volcanic activity, as has occurred in Iceland over the past 300,000 years (Hardarson and Fitton, 1991; Monastersky, 1988). Society is highly vulnerable to volcanic disasters and future experiences could bring volcanoes to the forefront of natural hazard concerns.

9.4 Volcanoes and IDNDR

In support of the IDNDR, IAVCEI (the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior)--in cooperation with the International Lithosphere Commission (ICL [sic]), the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG)--developed a list of projects for preventing volcanic disasters. IAVCEI produced a working document (IAVCEI, 1990) which detailed these plans (summarized later in this section) in order to stimulate discussion amongst the volcanological community. Feedback was sought about which projects scientists would be interested in working on and for further proposals for similar activities. Funding requirements for these projects were estimated at US$10.2 million/year (1990 dollars) exclusive of infrastructure, with organizations, institutions, agencies, and governments at all political levels assisting (IAVCEI, 1990).

The identified needs for managing vulnerability to volcanic disasters are (IAVCEI, 1990)15:

•political mandates backed up by financial support;

•sustainable volcano-related programs at various spatial scales;

•quantitative and qualitative hazard assessments for volcanoes for a range of temporal scales, particularly volcanoes which pose the greatest, unaddressed threats;

•monitoring programs to detect and track volcanic unrest and for short-term warnings of impending eruptions;

•actions by civil officials to reduce vulnerability;

•development of crisis response capability; and

•follow-up activities after volcanic crises in order to put the volcanological and sociological lessons into practice during future situations.

The two main tasks espoused by IAVCEI (1990) for meeting these needs are data collection by scientists and vulnerability management by civil authorities.

Twelve projects for managing vulnerability to volcanic disasters are proposed in detail by IAVCEI (1990) and, in summary, are:

•hazard and risk mapping of volcanoes which threaten people and for which no adequate maps exist;

•basic surveillance of background volcanic activity at volcanoes which are not monitored but which threaten people;

•increased public education and awareness of volcanic hazards;

•communication amongst scientists, civil defence officials, and community leaders;

•Decade Volcano demonstration projects for volcanoes which are representative of the volcanic threat and appropriate for intensive, international research (Table 9-4);

Table 9-4: Decade Volcanoes

(information from IAVCEI, 1994)

The volcanoes in this table were nominated by their host countries and endorsed by IAVCEI for the combination of population at risk, volcanic unrest, scientific infrastructure, and national commitment.









Mauna Loa




Mount Rainier



Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaïre)



Santa María/Santiaguito





The Philippines




Papua New Guinea





•IAVNET, an email and voice network for rapid communication amongst volcanologists around the world;

•development of national archives of volcano data and volcano reference materials, updates of reference materials, and information-sharing agreements;

•training of scientists, technicians, planners, and civil defence officials;

•development of new, more reliable, and less expensive instrumentation and experiments;

•application of satellites for research, monitoring, and warning;

•co-ordination of national and international teams for assisting volcanic crises; and

•seed money and matching grants for volcano-related projects.

These projects are expected to expand knowledge of, awareness of, and resources for activities related to volcanic hazards and disasters while attempting to prevent hazards from becoming disasters in the future.

9.5 Summary and Conclusions

Volcanic hazards are diverse and remarkably dangerous, and society is highly vulnerable to volcanic disasters. As well, there is a strong potential for a volcanic disaster with a magnitude greater than volcanic disasters already witnessed by society. Therefore, activities related to managing vulnerability to volcanic disasters are desirable. The IDNDR’s activities have indicated that society accepts the threats from and challenges posed by volcanic hazards and is willing to tackle them through diverse and innovative programs and solutions, including the development and implementation of technology. As with other natural disasters, technology has a prominent role to play in managing vulnerability to natural disasters, but there are many difficulties to overcome. Specific difficulties and solutions are examined in the following chapters for volcanic disasters on non-industrialized islands.

10. Volcanic Disasters and Islands

10.1 Island Geography

There is no set definition for a small island in a geographical context. Many authors (e.g., Briguglio et al., 1996; King, 1993; Pantin, 1998; Streeten, 1993) have discussed definitions of “island”, “small”, and “small island” using such criteria as population size; land area; economic criteria such as arable land area or gross national product; environmental influence, such as defining an island to be a landmass which does not create its own climate or ecology due to its volume; and characteristics of social geography, such as the presence of an island people or culture.

Although there are similarities between island and non-island small states, this author views the presence or absence of land borders as an important distinguishing characteristic between island small states and non-island small states (such as Andorra, Guyana, and Lesotho). Due to their economic, demographic, and physical size, small nations are self-sufficient in few resources--including natural resources, manufactured goods, labour, food, and water--so the presence of land borders enables the cheapest lifelines to be employed for importing. Land transportation networks for products and people tend to be cheaper than air and quicker than water transportation networks while wire-based communication and energy lifelines are easier to construct and maintain across land borders than in the absence of land borders. These difficulties present unique challenges, such as developing local, small-scale, renewable energy sources and balancing tradeoffs between the cost of wireless communications and the construction/maintenance challenges and environmental impact of wire-based communications.

Therefore the lack of land borders is a distinguishing characteristic of islands compared to other small states, with two provisos. First, the addition of a land transportation route, normally a bridge or tunnel, is effectively the creation of a land border. A land transportation route is not as established or as reliable as a natural land border, and so islands with such links tend to be “pseudo-islands”, with characteristics lying in the transition zone between those of islands and non-islands. Canada’s Prince Edward Island, connected to the mainland by a road bridge, and Singapore, connected to Malaysia by rail and road links, are examples. Second, some islands belong to more than one sovereign nation, such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic forming Hispaniola and New Guinea split between the country of Papau New Guinea and the Indonesian region (for the moment) of Irian Jaya. Irrespective of the land borders, they are islands; the term “land border” implies “land border with a continental land mass”.

The intuitive concept of an island as a comparatively small (to other landmasses on the planet) landmass without land borders can be adopted for this thesis. Despite potential ambivalence over examples such as Greenland, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar, this concept serves this thesis well because borderline examples do not influence the selection of case studies or the results. Regions with many islands include the Caribbean Sea (e.g., Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, and St. Lucia) and the south and western Pacific Ocean (e.g., Japan, Kiribati, the Philippines, and Vanuatu). Other examples of islands around the world are Chatham Island (New Zealand), Comoros, Lakshadweep (India), Sardinia (Italy), and Tristan da Cunha (U.K.).

These islands are shaped by their remoteness (at times referred to as insularity, somewhat tautologically) from continental landmasses, which develops ecologies and cultures that are usually unique to their island(s). Islands tend to have few natural resources, fragile environments, fragile economies, and are highly vulnerable to the some of the most devastating hydrometeorlogical and geological natural disasters. The hydrometeorlogical hazards of concern are mainly hurricanes/cyclones/typhoons, but rarely tornadoes. As well, maintaining a constant supply of fresh water is often challenging, but the falling cost for more efficient desalination techniques should be able to eliminate drought as a concern if implemented properly. Geological hazards of particular concern are volcanoes (section 10.3), and earthquakes are also frequent in many locales, along with subsequent tsunamis. Due to their remoteness, islands are relatively free from biological hazards. These characteristics of island geography yield challenges which have common themes throughout all islands yet produce an incredible diversity of environments and societies.

10.2 Non-industrialized Islands

The dwindling number of overseas territories controlled by colonial powers has led to numerous new nations comprising islands, most of them non-industrialized. Section 1.1 noted that the IDNDR emphasizes developing countries in its natural disaster reduction plans while section 10.1 noted that islands are often subjected to some of the most devastating natural disasters. Developing, or non-industrialized, islands thus have an immense challenge in managing their vulnerability to natural disasters. Furthermore, the characteristics of island geography discussed in section 10.1 indicate the difficulty of technology transfer. Technology must be transported to areas without efficient transportation lifelines, transferred to an isolated culture, and implemented in a fragile environment and economy. The problems with using technology for managing vulnerability to natural disasters discussed in Part I are likely to be amplified on non-industrialized islands, where there are usually fewer resources for their resolution.

10.3 Volcanic Disasters on Non-Industrialized Islands

Most non-industrialized islands have formed due to volcanic activity and many are currently active volcanically17. Thus, the non-industrialized islands which are vulnerable to volcanic disasters tend to be volcanoes. This situation contrasts continental volcanoes which are generally just part of a mountain range. Island volcanoes thus produce a dichotomy of creation and destruction alluded to in section 2.6 during the discussion of the benefits of natural hazards. The creative force which permitted society to exist on the island often threatens the island society with destruction. Living on and with an active volcano becomes a continual life experience which impacts attitude and belief systems (section 3.3) and psychological boundaries (section 6.4). There is no easy escape route from the volcano during threatening times or for implementing less vulnerable lifestyles; the volcano is part of the culture’s day-to-day life--and could potentially be its death any day.

Although entire languages and cultures on islands are threatened by volcanoes, the number of people affected tends to be relatively small because islands tend to have small populations. Notable exceptions amongst non-industrialized islands are Indonesia and the Philippines (Japan is an example of an industrialized island group with a high population which is threatened by volcanoes). The combination of a large population and a high frequency of volcanic events has guided Indonesia and the Philippines to the most sophisticated response to volcanic eruptions amongst non-industrialized islands (Chester, 1993). Tables 9-1 and 11-1 list the many high-fatality eruptions in Indonesia and the Philippines respectively, but most such eruptions occurred several decades ago indicating an improvement in managing vulnerability to natural disasters despite increases in population.

Therefore non-industrialized nations can manage their vulnerability to volcanic disasters at least reasonably effectively, although they do not always do so. The reasons echo the difficulties with using technology to manage vulnerability to natural disasters, discussed in Part I. Specific case studies (Chapters 11 and 12, described in section 10.4) illustrate these difficulties and demonstrate how the role of technology varies widely between location and incident and how the role of technology in managing vulnerability to volcanic disasters can be improved.

10.4 Selection of Case Studies

The previous sections in this chapter have noted the interesting and challenging features of using technology to manage vulnerability to volcanic disasters on non-industrialized islands. Sections 1.1 and 1.3 discussed the desire to examine natural disasters which occurred during the IDNDR. A further constraint for the selection of the case studies is logistical: information on the disaster as well as on the role of technology had to be available in a form obtainable under the resource constraints imposed on this thesis. An examination of the literature yielded two events which not only met the necessary criteria, but which also raised numerous, relevant issues which are not as evident in other examples, volcanic and non-volcanic, examined during the work for this thesis. These issues portray technology in a variety of roles indicating its versatility along with the numerous manners in which it can succeed and fail. The two case studies are Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which started erupting in 1991 (Chapter 11) and Soufrière Hills in Montserrat, which started erupting in 1995 (Chapter 12).

11. Mount Pinatubo, The Philippines (Initial Eruption 1991)

Abbreviations used in this chapter:

Clark Clark Air Base

PHIVOLCS Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Filipino volcanologists)

PVOT Pinatubo Volcano Observatory Team (Filipino and American volcanologists, mainly from the PHIVOLCS-USGS team)

Subic Bay Subic Bay Naval Station

USGS United States Geological Survey (American volcanologists)

VDAP Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (an USGS international aid initiative)

11.1 The Philippines

The Philippines is 300,000 km2 in land area and comprises 7,000 islands on the Pacific edge of Asia. The nation’s history chronicles successive invasions by various cultures, with the most influential being the Spanish, from the late 16th century until the end of the Spanish-American War on December 10, 1898, and the Americans, from December 10, 1898 until independence on July 4, 1946. The current Filipinos are predominantly descendants of Spanish Caucasians, with minorities of Arab Muslims, mestizos, and Chinese (Steinberg, 1994).

There is also an indigenous (aboriginal) race, the Negritos, who were the nation’s first human settlers and who inhabited the Philippines for thousands of years before invasions by other cultures began. One group, the Aeta tribe (also termed Ayta or Agta), had a population of between 10,000 (England, 1993b) and 50,000 (Goertzen, 1991) living on the slopes of Mount Pinatubo before its eruption. The term “Filipinos” does not refer to the Aetas in this thesis.

The Philippines is ranked as lower-middle income by the World Bank (1995). The average annual rate of inflation from 1960-1970 was 5.8%, and since then, it has fluctuated wildly, but averaged 13.5%. The economy is quite diversified with manufacturing, natural resource, and agricultural industries and numerous exports. Thus, the economy is overall in reasonable shape compared to many developing countries and non-industrialized island nations, but is definitely not at the level of a developed country.

The economic problems are influenced by the moderately large (for the nation’s area) population of 64.8 million (1993) which is becoming progressively urban, but the demographic situation is promising. The average annual population growth rate has declined from 3.0% between 1960 and 1970 (World Bank, 1978) to the 1993 to 2000 projection of 2.0% (World Bank, 1995). Despite the Catholic influence against birth control (Brands, 1992; Steinberg, 1994), at least 40% of married couples use contraception (World Bank, 1995). Since 1960, the infant mortality rate has halved to 42 per 1,000 live births and adult illiteracy has dropped by 2/3 to 10%, with 11% of women illiterate (World Bank, 1978 and 1995).

Most demographic and economic indicators put the Philippines in a better situation than most developing countries and non-industrialized island nations, but without the impetus or strength to make the transition to developed status. Political problems have also debilitated attempts to improve the Philippines’ situation, especially incompetence and corruption which remain as part of the legacy of the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos (and his wife Imelda). Marcos’ reign began with his election as president in 1965 and ended with a violent revolution in the capital Manila on February 25, 1986. Since the exile of Marcos, the Philippines has experienced two relatively fair presidential elections, in June 1992 and May 1998, settling down to a reasonably stable and coup-free government with only minor constitutional hiccups and two fading guerrilla wars. The conflict between economic dependence on the U.S.A. and the nationalistic desire to shed all colonial influences continues to impinge on the political scene with bitter debates. The main Filipino-American issue related to Mount Pinatubo was the September 1991 expiry of the Americans’ lease on Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Air Base (see Figure 11-1).

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