Update Ecuador/Tungurahua volcano menace

Since the beginning of October 1999 the abnormal activity of Tungurahua volcano, 120 km south of Quito, continues (refer to ACT Alert of 17 November 1999). Permanent seismic activity and very high sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels have been registered and explosions of ash and incandescent materials are regularly emitted. Volcanic ash has affected approximately 50,000 hectares of farmland and also, to a lesser extent, several towns and villages. After four months of activity the alert level orange is maintained and it is estimated that the situation could last for two years.
25,000 persons living in high risk areas such as Baños, Penipe, Puela and Bilboa were evacuated at the beginning of the activity. Due to lack of adequate response from the Government to their problems - Ecuador is going through an extremely difficult economic and political period - the population is, at their own risk, gradually returning to their homes and disregarding the warnings of the Government. Five thousand persons are now living permanently in the high-risk area. They are occupied with taking care of national and international tourism which continues - in spite of the danger - and constitutes the main source of income for the population. Due to the critical and risky situation the community has started to build their own contingency plan to confront an eventual eruption.

In December ACT reallocated some unspent funds from the *El Niño* emergency to support the work of an emergency committee of the Evangelical churches in Ecuador - which is working closely with the Latin America Council of Churches (CLAI) to provide help to the evacuated population. This emergency committee is helping the population in the risk area to build a contingency plan in case of eruption and to re-establish adequate co-ordination with the government. A proposal to support this plan is being elaborated.