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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences


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 NERC's 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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Langmuir, A. (2019) La historia se repite

Description Our work after the Fuego eruption (NERC Urgency), has highlighted the need to address, characterise and highlight to the DRR community how: (i) vulnerability can be spatially highly heterogenous: Heterogeneous levels of social, and especially systemic/functional vulnerability in communities only a few kilometres apart are shaped by factors that include differential access to information, the state of repair of access routes, and whether access routes traverse threatened drainages. Differential access to information about the volcanic activity was a key factor in how the events of the 2018 disaster unfolded. Informed and timely decision-making and access to transport were critical in saving of hundreds of lives at La Reunión, a luxury that was not afforded to the community of Los Lotes less than 2 km away; (ii) vulnerability related to mass flows differs to that of other natural hazards or climate change. Three key differences are: (a) for loss of life considerations, physical vulnerability of infrastructure can be reduced to a binary problem (impacted or not). This is in contrast with earthquakes or ash fall for example, where damage intensity is gradational, and determination of physical vulnerability of infrastructure is useful in order to improve building resilience, which can itself lead to reduction in loss of life. (b) mass flows travel along the ground surface, cut across roads and lifelines, impacting evacuation routes for people in extensive regions well beyond the area directly affected by the hazard itself as well as post-disaster functionality of extended regions; (c) mass flows can fundamentally alter the landscape, apart from removing topography upslope, downslope they can fill drainages, block, dam or change the course of rivers, or deviate the course of future mass flows; and (iii) vulnerability varies across time scales: vulnerability in our study communities is changing at a variety of interconnected time-scales and the dynamic nature of vulnerability needs to be properly investigated, documented and analysed.

Our work has already generated
? Co-development (INSIVUMEH/Edinburgh/MapAction/USGS) of three volcanic crisis maps after the June 2018 eruption of Fuego volcano.
? Co-production of feature length documentary film on the Fuego eruption produced by an award-winning Guatemalan-based film producer (in post-production) (Xocomil Producciones/UoE).
? A network of politically engaged civil society leaders living and working in communities in the vicinity of the volcano "Amigos del Volcán".
Exploitation Route This award and the work involved helped to develop our submission to the GCRF Multi-hazards and risk call, which we were subsequently successful at securing. We will therefore be working in similar themes for the next 3 years, also based in Guatemala.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description We have been involved in the development of the long term volcanic hazard map for Fuego volcano, Guatemala.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description University of Edinburgh - Global Impact Accelerator Account: "Fuego Volcano Eruption: Understanding and communicating risk - Using film as a visual methodology"
Amount £59,820 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 03/2019
Description Guest Lecture (Portsmouth) - Geoscience for Sustainable and Resilient Futures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Joel Gill gave an invited lecture on geoscience for sustainable and resilient futures in the Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth. This event gathered approximately 30 staff and students from across geography, international development and Earth and environmental science departments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
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
Description Panel Discussion (Oxford) - Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In May 2019, I chaired a panel discussion on natural hazards at the University of Oxford. This was recorded and made available online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://youtu.be/CDl4aWxcmg4
Description Public Lecture - Disaster Risk Reduction 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave two public lectures at the Geological Society of London, with a combined audience of approximately 320 people. The talks were also livestreamed, and made available as a video afterwards. The talk focused on disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. Both talks sparked discussion afterwards, with questions from the general public, academics and industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/GSL-Lecture-April