Resilience to Volcanic and Tsunami Hazards within Indigenous Communities: Savo Volcano Solomon Islands and applications to other archipelago nations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Geology


There are millions of people in the world vulnerable to death, injury & loss of property due to natural disasters. Recent exemples include flooding in Pakistan (2010) affecting 20 million people and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed over 300,000 people. This study focuses upon one type of natural hazard (volcanic hazard) although much of the research can be applied to other forms of hazard. Volcanoes affect peoples' lives in many ways, most dramatically, from a hazard and risk perspective, this includes causing death, injury, evacuation and damage through explosive eruptions and related events such as volcanic mudflows (lahars), volcanic-induced landslips, seismic activity related to eruptions, and through tsunamis generated by volcanic activity. The study of hazard and risk also involves affected communities, decison and policy makers and emergency services that assist when disasters occur. A major part of our work is to analyse all these elements that make up the 'human side' of natural disasters. We will particularly examine vulnerable communities and the planners and managers of disaster-mitigation and reduction. The big aim of our work is to reduce risk, loss of life and minimise the impact on essential infrastructure. The area of focus for our work is Savo volcano in the Solomon Islands, SW Pacific. This country is an example of 'island archipelago' nations - countries made up of widely distributed, relatively small islands. Such countries face many challenges to managing natural hazards, unique to themselves. These challenges include widespread populations, relatively low levels of education, lack of access to modern communication, transport difficulties, limited space and options for movement when disasters occur, etc. Melanesian communities (the people of the SW Pacific are termed 'Melanesians') traditionally live a subsistence lifestyle in villages that rely on their local environment to provide their needs (agriculture, livestock, building materials, marine resources, water supplies etc.). They have few material possessions and often lack electricity supplies and many of the conveniences of the modern Western world. On Savo around 4000 people live on a 6km wide volcano that erupts at periods of c. 100-200 years and has caused mass evacuation, death and destruction throughout the island. Furthermore the volcano is only 35km from the nation's capital town (Honiara) that includes c. 20% of the population and the bulk of national infrastructure. Honiara is vulnerable not only to direct volcanic hazards such as ash fall but also from tsunamis that can potentially destroy much of the town. Our team has looked at the geology and past behaviour of the volcano - but we need a much deeper understanding. We know that when it erupts it forms large columns of ash and violent block and ash flows that rapidly exit the volcanic crater, rush through valleys and spread out close to the coast. At least 70% of islanders are at risk from block and ash and ash-fall eruptions. We have also learned that parts of the volcano is being 'rotten away' through the vigorous activity of hot fluids and water that weaken the volcano and may cause major landslides that in turn cause the tsunamis that will hit Honiara and other areas. A key component of our work will focus on vulnerable villagers on Savo - their economy, society, styles of decision making, education & awareness and ability to respond to major disasters. We will attempt to understand their 'resilience' - what elements of their society are particularly weak or strong with respect to planning for, responding to, and recovering from natural disasters. Once we have identified these elements we can target ways of increasing their capacity to adapt to a changing environment. We will use this work to apply to other similar vulnerable groups in places like Indonesia, the Phillipines, Tonga, the Caribbean etc. We believe this is invaluable research for mankind.


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