5 Ways USAID is Responding to Volcano Eruptions in Saint Vincent

It surprised most people when Saint Vincent island’s La Soufrière volcano erupted April 9, shooting ash clouds miles into the air. But disaster experts in USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance were expecting — and preparing for — La Soufrière‘s eruptions for months, providing early warning systems and support for the local emergency authorities.

After the eruptions, USAID worked with partners in the Caribbean to help people in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines stay safe and healthy through evacuations, and help them recover and rebuild after.

Here are 5 ways we responded:

1. Early Warning: U.S. Science & Tech for Monitoring Volcanoes

USAID and U.S. Geological Survey donated these seismic activity monitors to the local monitoring lab at the UWI Seismic Research Centre on St. Vincent earlier this year. Photo Credits: University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center
Early warning allowed St. Vincent disaster authorities to order evacuations the day before the volcano erupted. That extra time was critical to move more than 23,000 people safely out of harm’s way. Photo credits: University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center and NASA

La Soufrière started rumbling back in December. Soon after, USAID’s Volcano Disaster Assistance Program — a partnership that taps U.S. Geological Survey’s science and data — donated special seismic activity monitoring stations to the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center to help keep a close eye on the situation. This support helped provide the early warning that allowed local disaster authorities to start mass evacuations the day before the first big eruption.

2. Humanitarian Essentials: Shelter, Food, Water

USAID worked with the local Red Cross to provide emergency supplies to evacuees after the eruptions. Photo Credits: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

La Soufrière erupted repeatedly for two weeks, forcing more than 23,000 people to evacuate — many to emergency shelters operated by local authorities. USAID provided local authorities with immediate support for evacuations, and an initial tranche of humanitarian aid to the local Red Cross for emergency food, safe drinking water, and basic hygiene and shelter supplies for evacuees.

USAID shipped additional emergency supplies from its warehouse in Miami to Saint Vincent island to help evacuees affected by the La Soufrière volcano. Map Credit: Jasmin Khangura/USAID
Onboard the ship were hygiene kits, wheelchairs, walkers and other medical supplies for people displaced from their homes. Photo Credits: USAID

We also sent a ship carrying additional supplies from our Miami warehouse, where we stock them for just such emergencies.

3. Logistics: Getting Aid from Point A to B

Volcanic ash from La Soufriere’s explosions quickly covered the island, polluting the air and water — and closing the airport. That created big problems getting humanitarian aid to Saint Vincent. USAID asked the UN World Food Program (WFP) to use an ongoing Caribbean support program to provide emergency logistics support.

USAID partnered with WFP to increase the capacity of the logistics hub, which makes it easier to get aid to people who have been displaced. Photo Credits: WFP

WFP — the logistics backbone of the global humanitarian system — powered up the cranes and soon set up a logistics hub to receive, store and distribute aid to people in need.

4. COVID-Safe: Sharing Assistance without Spreading Disease

In May, USAID provided another $3.8 million in support for emergency food, safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, sanitary latrines, and essential household items for thousands of people in St. Vincent. The new funds will also provide essential medical supplies and support to health facilities — and hygiene promotion activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases in emergency shelters and communities.

5. Recovery: Supporting Clean-Up & Helping People Return Home

A member of the Americas Support Team surveys the volcanic ash covered island. Photo Credit: USAID

La Soufriere has grown quiet but our work is not over. Saint Vincent is covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash that has polluted air and water, collapsed roofs, and destroyed crops and pastures. Clean up will take months, but it has already started. In April, USAID sent in a three-person Americas Support Team to provide technical and logistical support to the UN-led environmental assessment. In May, USAID and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will start preparing evacuees to return home and resume livelihood activities like fishing and farming. This will include providing growers whose fields were destroyed by ash access to seeds and tools.

The Americas Support Team deployed to Saint Vincent to help provide technical support for the environmental assessment by Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the United Nations. Photo Credit: USAID

Recovery from this disaster will take many more months, but USAID will be there for the long haul. While volcano eruptions are rare, USAID stands ready to help and we have the equipment, expertise and people to do so.

Get more information on USAID’s response to St. Vincent.

Follow USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.

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