When A Volcano Cries Wolf, The challenge of maintaining a state of alert


The Galeras volcano in Nariño is considered one of the most active in Colombia.  Since June of 2004, Galeras has registered four small eruptions (the last being 12 June 2006).  In the proximity of the volcano, there are seven villages – including Pasto, Nariño, and la Florida – which must be preventively evacuated every time the volcano shows signs of an imminent eruption.

Due to Galeras’ continued activity, in November 2005 the Colombian government decreed the region around the volcano a disaster area. National  and local authorities took preventive measures to move affected families to temporary lodging for fear of a large scale eruption. As a result of the prolonged activity without a massive eruption (already more than two and a half years), authorities are having difficulty keeping local populations alert to the danger. According to tradition, Galeras is a “spiritual friend”–incapable of causing harm to the populations in its vicinity. This type of folklore is widely believed among the local population; thus, the continued warnings of government authorities  are increasingly falling on deaf ears.

The population surrounding the Galeras volcano seems to be “confused” by the government’s frequent calls for evacuation. Many citizens do not believe a prolonged evacuation is necessary. The local economic crisis may play a large role in the population’s ambivalence, as the citizens do not feel the compensation they receive from the government to evacuate is sufficient.  Many refuse to abandon their farms and livestock for the uncertainty of the temporary lodging.

The population’s hesitancy to evacuate has led to a sort of half-compliance with the authorities’ requests to evacuate.  Many families sleep in the temporary lodging and return to their farms during the day to work.  The current situation leaves the government in a predicament. If Galeras were to erupt during daytime hours while the villagers are working near the volcano, all of the economic, technical, and logistic measures would have been for nothing – as the very lives the government wanted to protect would be lost.

Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

525 23rd Street, N.W. - Washington, D.C. 20037, U.S.A.
202.974.3399 - Fax 202.775.4578 - disaster@paho.org - www.paho.org/disasters