The Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry Limited (GBTI) has a long history of supporting its Caribbean neighbors in times of need. Most recently, this generosity has taken the form of a disaster relief fund for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean island chain struggling with the effects of the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano in April.
Here’s what you need to know about:
The eruption of La Soufrière.
The volcano La Soufrière is located on Saint Vincent, the largest and northernmost island in the chain that makes up the country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Recorded eruptions of La Soufrière date back to 1718, but the volcano has been dormant since the last eruption took place in 1979.
However, in December 2020, La Soufrière began showing signs of life once again, spewing steam and smoke into the sky and making rumbling noises. Following warnings from scientists that an eruption could happen at any time, the government put plans in place to evacuate residents as needed from the “red zone.” This is the area around the volcano, inhabited by roughly 16,000 people, where the worst destruction was expected to take place.
During the first week of April 2021, volcanic activity at La Soufrière began to intensify. On the evening of Thursday April 8, a lava dome became visible, indicating that an eruption was imminent. That same night, Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, declared a disaster alert. The government immediately began to evacuate people from the red zone with the assistance of a number of cruise ships that were standing by to ferry Saint Vincent residents to safety on other islands.
The following morning, just before 9:00 a.m., the country’s National Emergency Management Organization announced that La Soufrière had erupted, blanketing the country in a heavy layer of dust and ash. Periodic eruptions continued over the course of the following week, propelling more than 460 million cubic tons of rock and earth into the atmosphere, and sending ash as far as the neighboring islands of Barbados, Grenada, and Saint Lucia.
The impact on Saint Vincent.
Fortunately, as a result of the early emergency measures and the readiness of residents to evacuate, no deaths or injuries were reported as a direct result of the explosion of La Soufrière. However, the devastation that the eruption caused is something that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will be grappling with for many months to come.
In the days following the initial eruption, it was estimated that up to 20,000 people had been displaced from their homes, with as many as 8,000 of these being accommodated in government shelters. Most critically, the eruption left the entire island of Saint Vincent without electricity or clean drinking water.
With the water system shut down, drinking water for the island’s population had to come from outside the country, a task that was made more difficult as the Saint Vincent airport was closed and maritime travel in the area was limited due to the effects of the explosion. Other immediate relief efforts were also hampered by poor visibility as a result of heavy ashfall, and from the ongoing danger posed by pyroclastic flow from the volcano, a fast-moving and deadly mixture of superheated gases, rock, and mud.
Roughly two weeks after the April 9 eruption, the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines estimated that La Soufrière had already inflicted over $100 million in damages. There are also significant concerns that worse destruction is still to come. June 1 is the start date for the Atlantic hurricane season, and the heavy rains the island often sees at this time of year could mix with volcanic debris to cause flooding and landslides.
What is being done to help.
As of May 10, thanks to the generosity of many individuals and community donors, the GBTI disaster relief fund for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had raised G$3,440,138. The bank’s CEO presented the funds to Mark Phillips, the prime minister of Guyana, to go directly to relief efforts for Saint Vincent.
Many other humanitarian organizations have also provided, and continue to offer, essential assistance to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as its government and residents work to recover from the impact of the eruption. The UN, for example, provided critical emergency relief in the form of water and sanitation hygiene supplies, including 60,000 masks and medical gowns, which were pre-positioned for easier access in nearby Barbados.
The Pan American Health Organization purchased 50 water tanks and pumps, as well as chlorine testing kits and other essential equipment for health clinics. Likewise, the Red Cross has supported over 2,000 people with water and emergency relief supplies since the initial eruption in early April, and expects to help more than 5,000 people over the next 18 months as displaced Saint Vincent residents wait to find out when they will be able to safely return to their homes.
Featured Image courtesy David Stanley | Flickr