Dynamic Risk at Fuego Volcano: Communities living in a post-eruption but still persistently active context

Lead Research Organisation: British Geological Survey
Department Name: Earth Hazards & Observatories


An eruption of Fuego volcano, Guatemala, on 3rd June 2018, had tragic outcomes when an entire village was inundated by pyroclastic flows. The eruption has prompted evacuations of around 12,000 people. This event resulted in changes to hazard, exposure and vulnerability, demonstrating the complex and dynamic nature of ongoing and future risk. This proposal seeks to characterise this dynamic risk observed in the natural environment, and understand the interactions between dynamic risk and society.

Following the 3rd June eruption of Fuego, evacuations have resulted in reduced exposure in some regions, however, vulnerability (physical, systemic, functional, social, economic and political) remains high and is a key component of the evolving risk. In particular, systemic and functional vulnerability are believed to be highly dynamic. This provides an opportunity to investigate how the evolving hazard situation at Fuego, combined with changes in exposure and highly dynamic systemic and functional vulnerability, play out to affect risk in a context where both recovery and continued eruption risk management are ongoing.

This opportunity is urgent: we must characterise changing hazard, exposure and vulnerability through time. Although the nature of the hazard can be investigated retrospectively, documenting changes to exposure (evacuations and reoccupations) and vulnerability as they respond to changing hazard and socio-economic conditions needs to be done as it occurs. For example, it is important to document physical vulnerability on buildings already impacted by the pyroclastic flows before further damage by weather or heavy machinery occurs, or document road closures next to affected drainages which can constitute a major element of the systemic vulnerability to lahars or pyroclastic flows of a community isolated by that road closure. Information on systemic vulnerability at this level of granularity is not normally documented in Guatemala, thus will not be available for later study.

Through this proposed work, we will collect an unprecedented dataset on vulnerability, documenting physical vulnerability of buildings impacted by pyroclastic flows before any further damage. When considering risk to life by volcanic flow hazards and lahars however, physical vulnerability of infrastructure can be reduced to a binary effect (impacted or not. It is actually systemic and functional vulnerability that are the more important, and harder to ascertain, unknowns. A key research component, therefore, is to test the hypothesis that for volcanic flow related hazards, in contrast to tephra hazards, it is widespread systemic vulnerability and not physical vulnerability of the footprint of potential impact that is the root cause of risk. This is important because much of the work currently undertaken on risk in volcanology is led by frameworks used for tephra fall hazards, yet flow impacts and risk are very different.

The project is will-aligned with the UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, as well as recent initiatives in the wider volcanology community to engage and improve our capacity to do risk well. We will use a combination of volcanology field approaches, forensic approaches, and interviews to gather the information.

Planned Impact

This project will strengthen disaster risk reduction and response in multi-hazard volcanic environments, where risk is dynamic, by engaging with four principal groups that could benefit from this work:

1. Hazard practitioners at government agencies in Guatemala, responsible for undertaking volcano monitoring and hazard assessments, will be better equipped to understand the dynamic landscape and evolving risk.

2. Decision makers and civil protection practitioners, utilising hazard assessments and information on the state of unrest of a volcano to make hazard management decisions, will make better-informed decisions for short-term hazard mitigation and long-term planning.

3. Academics in our partner countries (UK, US, Guatemala, Italy) and wider from the main disciplinary areas covered by this research will have a strengthened understanding of dynamic risk in multi-hazard volcanic environments, generating new ideas, innovation and partnerships to support disaster risk reduction.

4. Civil Society will benefit from improved access to information in times of crisis, and to reduce the impacts of future crises. This project will inform the engagement strategies of non-profit, voluntary citizens groups, which are organised on a local, national or international level in Guatemala, often taking responsibility for administering aid and/or improving wellbeing to reduce vulnerability.

5. The general public will benefit from reduced risk, through better characterisation of the natural environment and strengthened hazard institutions. People living in hazardous areas are often aware of hazards in the landscape, and may have prior experience of them. They will benefit by being able to make better decisions about their own livelihood.

In particular we wish to highlight our partnership with the Charity MapAction. MapAction is a humanitarian mapping charity based in the UK that works through specialist volunteers. Its aim is to save lives and minimize suffering by making the response to humanitarian emergencies as efficient and effective as possible. When a disaster strikes, MapAction deploys volunteer mapping professionals to the scene to help inform and coordinate response activities and get aid to where it is needed most. In their letter of support MapAction outline specific ways in which the proposal is directly relevant and will impact the work that they undertake.

These groups will all be represented at the initial meeting and conclusion workshop (DRR symposium) in Guatemala. Therefore the methods and activities for engagement will be directly through the meeting and workshop activities. Experts from government hazard and civil protection agencies have been embedded into the design of this project, and will form part of the project network. This will ensure they play a meaningful role in the analysis and interpretation of data, and have access to all project outputs.

Broader Impacts and impacts extending beyond the year of this work.

Policy makers: Through gaining a better understand of the factors which drive risk, this project will offer pathways to better management and reduction of risk. As well as addressing NERCs increasing resilience to natural hazard impact area, this research follows the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction guidelines for natural hazards and risk management by addressing hazard phenomena with the highest impact on lives, and potentially livelihoods, and property assets. We will engage directly with UNISDR Science and Technical Advisory group. The proposed project will address all three of the UNISDR Science and Technical Advisory Group recommendations to help strengthen Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies and practices: (i) share knowledge for action; (ii) use a multidisciplinary approach to research; and (iii) build systems resilience through local, national, regional and international partnerships.


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Description This award has enabled recognition of rapidly changing risk around active volcanoes, in particular vulnerabilities caused by socio-economic vulnerabilities.
Exploitation Route BGS reports situational awareness at active volcanoes around the world to UK government departments including FCDO and the European Response Coordination Centre. Our improved understanding of the situation at Fuego allows us to report the evolving situation more effectively.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

URL https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/en/publications/fuego-volcano-community-recovery-and-dynamic-risk-in-guatemala
Description BGS report to the European Response Coordination Centre 24/7 (eENHSP Aristotle project) about the status of volcanoes and the potential for impacts, so this project has enabled us to highlight the particular vulnerabilities at Fuego. BGS also report to UK government departments (International Natural Hazards Forward Look) weekly and again, vulnerabilities can be highlighted.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Recognition of volcano observatories during volcanic crisis response
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Raising awareness of the need for international civil protection agencies to be aware of national volcano monitoring institutions and volcano observatories during international response to volcanic crises.
Description International Development and Disaster Response discussions with UK government departments 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Raised awareness of collaborative efforts between UK HEIs and research institutes and international partners who monitor volcanoes (INSIVUMEH etc). Enabled an effective continued UK HEI response to the disaster and ensured BGS weekly horizon-scanning reports to HMG (including Guatemala) were accurate and useful.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019