Views on the future of Montserrat

In July 1995, the dormant volcano known as the Soufriere Hills’ volcano showed some signs of small eruptions. On 18th July 1995, thousands were forced to evacuate and temporarily reside in the so-called “safe areas” or flee to neighboring Caribbean islands, New York and Britain. In August, the government declared a state of Emergency. Approximately four months later, Britain offered their help to assist with rehabilitation programs.Not only did they help in this way but they also granted millions of pounds to help aid development of the victimized island. In April 1996, the British government settled on granting Montserratians residency and the right to work in the UK for up to two years. On June 25th 1997, the Soufriere Hills’ Volcano finally erupted, releasing 4.5 million metres cubed of rocks and gas and also killing a total of 19 people (even after evacuation). Two-thirds of the island was left uninhabitable and Plymouth, the capital, was abandoned. Montserrat’s airport was declared closed; the island was accessible only by helicopter or boat.The eruption was explained to have many causes, which could all be agreed on. Montserrat is right above a destructive plate margin. A destructive plate margin is basically where two plates are moving towards each other. It is when an oceanic plate meets a continental plate; the denser oceanic plate is then forced down into the mantle. Then small Earthquakes occur due to friction. The denser plate melts in the subduction zone due to the friction and increase in temperature. The oceanic crust melts and rises and causes explosive volcanoes. This is what is meant by destructive plate margins. In Montserrat’s case, the Atlantic plate acted as the oceanic plate and was forced under the Caribbean plate. Magma eventually rose up through weak points under the Soufriere Hills, forming an “underground pool of magma”. The rock above the “pool of magma” had collapsed opening a vent big enough to cause an eruption.There were many primary impacts of the volcanic eruption that occurred on Montserrat in 1997. Large areas were covered with volcanic material; the capital city of Plymouth was buried under 12 metres of mud and ash. Secondly, over 20 villages and two thirds of homes on the island were destroyed by pyroclastic flows which are fast-moving clouds of super-heated gas and ash. Also, most of the schools, hospitals, airports and the ports were destroyed. Lastly, vegetation and farmland were destroyed as well. The immediate responses were that people were evacuated from the South (Plymouth) to safe areas in the North. Also, shelters were built to house evacuees and temporary but not solid infrastructure was built to help shelter the evacuees right after the eruption. Fortunately, the UK provided 17 million pounds sterling of emergency aid to help overcome the eruption.Before the eruption took place, Plymouth was striving economically for a Caribbean island. It gained a lot of income from the tourism it attracted and trading sea life (fishing). Unfortunately, the secondary impacts of the eruption would affect the previous economically gaining factors of Montserrat. The geologists have gathered and predicted that tourists would stay away from Montserrat, therefore disrupting the economy. Also, the volcanic ash from the eruption had been predicted to destroy the marine life of Montserrat.In the future, it is possible to reduce the impacts of volcanoes, even if it is not possible to stop the actual eruption itself. Unlike Earthquakes, it is possible to predict approximately when a volcano is going to erupt. Scientists have the knowledge and instruments to monitor signs that come before a volcanic eruption. Also, hints such as tiny Earthquakes, escaping gas and change of shape of the volcano all mean an eruption is most likely. Lastly, predicting when a volcano is going to erupt gives people time to evacuate; therefore this reduces the number of injuries of deaths. The citizens of Montserrat were asked to evacuate but in the end some dies still safe zones were not predicted correctly enough.In terms of planning, future developments such as new housing developments and new buildings can be planned to avoid being built in areas most at risk of volcanic eruptions. This therefore reduces the number of buildings destroyed by an eruption and there is less lost. Firebreaks can be implemented to reduce the spread of fires. The government should order emergency services to train and prepare for disasters as reduces the number of people killed. Finally, governments can also plan evacuation routes to get people away from the volcano quickly and safely. It will help reduce injuries caused by pyroclastic flows or lahars.Building techniques can also be looked into. Buildings can’t be designed to completely withstand lava flows, pyroclastic flows or lahar, but they can be strengthened so that they are less likely to collapse. Also, the lava or lahar from some volcanoes can be diverted away from buildings if barriers are implemented as a compulsory design around each building.The citizens of Montserrat can be told how to make a survival kit containing things like food, water, a torch, dust masks and other objects. The kits would definitely prove to be effective, as it would reduce the chance of people dying during a volcanic eruption. Governments and other NGO’s can educate people about how to evacuate if a volcano erupts. Once again, it will help reduce death.Aids should be promoted for LEDC’s. Montserrat has suffered tremendously but the aid from the British governments has helped them overcome their problem and actually help rebuild their infrastructure.All of the strategies discussed above were all sustainable, effective and environmentally friendly. Though, Montserrat at that time did not have enough knowledge and financial aid to afford any of those schemes discussed. Predicting eruptions requires special equipment and trained scientists, which makes it expensive. Also, building techniques can be extremely expensive. Though if maybe a risk map showing all the zones of safety and exclusion was to be distributed to the citizens, less people would have died or been injured. In terms of the future of Montserrat, it is possible that a smaller community would live there, achieving an optimum population. Also, the capital Plymouth may be abandoned, as it is too close to the active volcano. There is a possibility that tourism might actually increase instead of decrease as it did with Mount St. Helens. This is because more people would want to visit the volcano. In terms of long terms responses, it would be good of Montserrat if they set up some sort of Volcano Observatory and predict future eruptions.

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