Getting People to Leave ....
Following is the text only of an article by Robert C. Cowen for
The Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 1997:
> FEATURES, COLUMN, SCIENCE, Page 15
> Getting People To Leave Is Tough Job For Volcano Trackers
> Robert C. Cowen, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
> For scientists who want to reduce volcanic hazards, finding out what's
> going on inside the risky mountains is only half the battle. Getting
> people to act on that knowledge is another kind of challenge.
> Many inhabitants of Montserrat ignore warnings to evacuate that
> Caribbean island in the face of ongoing eruptions. Villagers cultivate
> the slopes of Popocatèpetl near Mexico City while the volcano spits
> rocks and ash. And on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, developers wind roads
> around volcanic cones and build houses on its steep slopes while the
> mountain oozes lava over some of their earlier efforts.
> There is a strong emotional reluctance to abandon one's home or
> community. It also can seem reasonable for people who have lived with
> a volcano for generations to believe they can continue to cope with
> their restless neighbor. And when the possibility of danger seems less
> than imminent, the costs of changing established living patterns and
> of restricting development loom large.
> Geologist Donald Swanson at the US Geological Survey (USGS) Hawaii
> Volcano Observatory puts it this way: "When you mesh natural hazards
> with politics, economics, development, etc., it's a recipe from which
> it's hard to make an edible dish." That, he adds, is why Hawaii has
> emergency response plans in place for Mauna Loa but little
> volcano-sensitive land-use planning.
> This is supposed to be the United Nations International Decade for
> Natural Disaster Reduction. But people living with lively mountains
> tend to forget that, while volcanic forces are natural, lack of
> risk-aversion planning puts humans unnecessarily in harm's way. The
> volcanologists' task is to get an entire community to see this.
> "With volcanoes, warning can really make a difference," says Marianne
> Guffant, coordinator of the USGS volcanic hazards program in Reston,
> Va. A decade of cooperative planning involving scientists and the
> local community minimized fatalities in Papua New Guinea when Mt.
> Rabaul finally erupted in 1994. Twelve people died, as opposed to 500
> in the 1937 eruptions.
> It's harder to get public attention when the danger is subtle and
> unseen. But it can be done as in the case of Mt. Rainier in Washington
> State. Volcanic heat is melting the mountain's decorative snow cap
> from below. Melt water rots underlying rock. Eventually, this can
> suddenly give way releasing a fast-moving mudflow that carries all in
> its path. Seattle and Tacoma are at risk even though the mountain
> seems calm. Detailed research has persuaded planners to begin to steer
> development away from valleys and other areas likely to channel any
> Volcanologist Michael Sheridan at the State University of New York at
> Buffalo says he thinks Veracruz and surrounding territory face a
> similar risk from El Pico de Orizaba in Mexico. People there, he says,
> "are probably not even afraid of the volcano." It's been a peaceful
> neighbor. He expects to begin research next spring on the extent of
> any mudflow hazard. He hopes to raise public awareness of any danger
> he finds.
> The USGS has identified some 564 active volcanoes around the world.
> Some geophysicists think there may be at least three times that many.
> In some cases, people have lived with the volcanoes for centuries. In
> other cases, population growth and development have brought people
> into a volcano's vicinity fairly recently. Often, the hazard the
> volcanoes present is poorly known. Even when geologists are concerned,
> wise planning often is lacking.
> Preparations for Mt. Rabaul's eruption in Papua New Guinea and the new
> planning around Mt. Rainier are showcase examples. But if this Decade
> of Natural Disaster Reduction is to have any significant success as
> far as volcanoes are concerned, more than scientific research is
> needed. That research has to wake up communities to possible danger.
> And the scientists who often would rather research than muck into
> politics have to join with the rest of the community to find the will
> to do something about it.
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first version: September 18, 1997;
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