The project

The last decade has been inundated with reports of environmental disasters impacting the lives of billions of people around the world

While news coverage of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes or wild fires are always accompanied with spectacular images of destruction that emphasise the speed at which they strike, a myriad of slow and latent hazards have been left in the shadow of the public attention

One of those overshadowed and underestimated hazards is environmental pollution caused by vumo.

Even when volcanoes are not erupting ash or lava, their emissions can be extremely rich in acids (e.g. sulphur dioxide gas), fine particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5) and heavy metals, presenting a serious and persistent air pollution hazard.

Vegetation impacted by vumo from Masaya volcano is reduced from tropical cloud forest to yellowed scrubland

Vumo is known to be harmful to health, for example causing increased long-term respiratory problems such as asthma. They also impact water and soil quality and plant health and therefore can cause severe damage to agriculture-dependent economies

Yet, vumo remains overlooked by the wider Disaster Risk Reduction community in the Global South. Most of the existing knowledge and best practices on dealing with volcanic emissions originates from locations in the Global North, such as Hawaii, Italy and Japan, leaving major gaps in their institutional applications to Global South contexts

In Central America, where there is a long history of living near active volcanoes, knowing how local communities have learnt to cope with the long-term effects of vumo is important for development and improvement of the institutional management of this hazard

UNRESP is seeking ways to reduce the impact of vumo on the local populations, using an approach that bridges volcanology, environmental sciences, history, human geography, sociology and health studies

Map of average sulphur dioxide air pollution (SO2) and material damage in towns and villages (•) near Masaya. WHO human health guidelines of 20 μg.m-3 are severely exceeded in many places. Map adapted from van Manen 2014

UNRESP foundation phase

UNRESP (November 2016- April 2019) is based at Masaya volcano in Nicaragua, one of the biggest volcanic polluters in the world. Masaya has been causing severe air pollution in populated areas for many centuries.  There is a very limited understanding of the dispersion and levels of the air pollution, and no established procedures for communicating the hazard between the local authorities and the public

The foundation phase contains four parts:

1.Better understand the environmental pollution caused by Masaya

2.Learn about, and document the existing resilience to this long-term hazard, both within the local populations; and in the decision-making organisations

3.Explore the feasibility of introducing a public advisory system to alert the local populations to high air pollution. The alert system has to be appropriate for the local setting in order to be useful

4.Outreach activities to introduce our work and disseminate results