On 9 April 2021, after months of heightened activity, La Soufrière volcano entered an explosive state on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. To date, it is estimated that 20,000 persons have been displaced through mandatory evacuation of the red and orange zones, which commenced on April 8. However, the vast majority of the population has been adversely impacted by this disaster. The eruption of La Soufrière comes as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is recovering from its largest COVID-19 surge amid the pandemic, and the region’s worst Dengue outbreak in recent history. La Soufrière is likely continue to erupt in the coming weeks and maybe even months. The long-term effects of a protracted eruption on agriculture and tourism, which are the mainstays of the Vincentian economy and contribute about half of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), will further exacerbate the already devastating socioeconomic impact of COVID-19. It will also reduce capacity for recovery and erode hard-earned development gains. A rapid response that effectively links immediate humanitarian assistance to early recovery and rehabilitation is urgently needed, as the fast-approaching hurricane season poses an additional threat to an already vulnerable population.
Most affected areas
The parishes in the evacuated orange and red zones have been most affected by the current volcanic eruption and its heavy ash fall and pyroclastic flows, especially towns closest to La Soufrière. According to preliminary reports, extensive damage has occured in the island’s northern region, with forests and farms completely wiped out and staple crops, including plantain and bananas, destroyed. As such, early recovery of livelihoods and rehabilitation of critical services and infrastructure are of paramount importance to address both immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term reconstruction and development. The continued eruption of La Soufrière is not only affecting Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but also Barbados, where thick ash plumes travelling east, have engulfed the country, forcing the temporary closure of many businesses ,already hard hit by COVID-19, and delayed the reopening of schools. The Government of Barbados has expressed concern about the potential impact of intense ash fall on public health, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism,and has sought UN assistance on ash and debris cleanup, and for environmental health and technical experts to join national loss, damage and needs assessment efforts. Furthermore, other countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have offered to host evacuees who prefer to leave the country to live with family and friends in neighboring states.