Description of the disaster
In the early hours of 20 September 2020, the Sangay volcano, located in the central Ecuadorian province of Morona Santiago, registered a significant increase in its level of eruptive activity (NationalGeophysical Institute; Special Report no. 4- 2020).
Seismic records indicated the occurrence of explosions and ash emissions much more energetic than any of those observed in previous months. Starting at 04h40 (GMT -5), several satellite images showed a large ash cloud, rising to a height of approximately 6 to 10 km above the volcano's crater. The highest part of the ash cloud moved east, while the lowest parts moved west of the volcano.
As the hours passed, the ash cloud began to descend over the provinces of Chimborazo, Bolivar, Guayas, Los Rios and part of Santa Elena. The highest impact was registered on 21 September in the cantons of Alausí, Chunchi, Guamote, Cumandá and Pallatanga in Chimborazo province with the primary impacts on agriculture and livestock, and in Chillanes canton in Bolivar where the community water sources were contaminated (Annex I: map of affected area). The affected population in Chillanes canton is estimated at 18,685 people according to data from the 2010 population census and Chillanes plan of development and territorial organization.
In the Guayas province, the Guayaquil cantonal authorities ceased activities at the international airport José Joaquín de Olmedo for approximately two hours to clean the runway. Meanwhile, local authorities in the province of Chimborazo installed the emergency operations centre (EOC) with the support of the National Service for Risk and Emergency Management (SNGRE) and the Ministry of the Environment and Water, to take protection and response measures in the affected areas. At the national level, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock assessed the impact and damages caused by this event.
The Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute, with its partners in the field, evaluated the collection of ash samples in the different locations where ashfall occurred to identify possible scenarios of increased or decreased activity of the volcano. In the afternoon of 21 September, the volcano continued to emit gases and columns of ash, which did not exceed 2 km in height.
The Sangay volcano, located in the eponymous national park, is one of the most active in the country. Normally its activity does not generate impacts on the population. However, in recent months with the increase of its activity and the direction of the winds from the Amazon, the ash dispersion has occurred in previous areas that had not been affected by other eruptive processes. Thus, ashfall did not occur in the projected areas, but rather in other locations. Ashfall affected six provinces: Guayas, Los Ríos, Santa Elena, Chimborazo, Manabí and Bolívar.
For example, the Pallatanga canton, which had requested that the EOC declare an emergency in the canton, which was not accepted, was affected by ashfall. While the ash thickness remained less than 5 mm, the amount of accumulated ash was sufficient to generate havoc in the agricultural and livestock sectors due to the direct fall and the contamination of water sources that lack adequate protection.
The Ecuadorian Red Cross (ERC) activated its Early Action Plan (EAP) for Forecast-based Triggered Action for volcanic ashfall (MDREC015) on 21 September 2020. The Ecuadorian Red Cross has responded with early actions for 1,000 families in the province of Chimborazo. However, the effects of the volcanic ash have affected other areas such as Bolivar province, which requires humanitarian assistance and has not been reached with the activation of the EAP.
In the canton of Chillanes in Bolívar province, the ashfall affected sources of water, agriculture, and livestock. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, at least 12,000 hectares of pasture that feeds 10,000 cattle were affected in Chillanes, with a layer of between 2 and 3 millimetres covering the forage. The damage to 1,000 hectares of tree tomato and blackberry crops influences more than 6,000 producers. Although the maize crop is now in the harvest season, no major losses were reported of the 7,000 hectares planted.
As a response activity, 15 groups of Ministry of Agricultural technicians were deployed to the communities, training farmers to protect animals and clean the eyes, mucous membranes and noses of their livestock with water and brush their fur to avoid irritation and damage to their skin. In addition, this same ministry sent 8 trucks with bananas, and 600 silage and 45-kilogram hay bags to the communities to feed the livestock. Additionally, 40 air pumps were distributed to clean the crops, especially the blackberry and tomato crops that had been affected.