Saturday, April 08, 2006

Galeras volcano blows off some steam!

This situation report is based on information provided to OCHA by the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombia, and reports from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Red Cross of Colombia.


1. Increased seismic activity of the volcano Galeras, located in the department of Nariño in south-western Colombia, led the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMINAS) to change its alert phase to Level II (likely eruption in days or weeks) on 28 March 2006. In 2005, the alert phase stood at Level II twice: for a month and a half in April/May, and for 24 days in November.

2. According to information provided by INGEOMINAS on 4 April, there is a permanent addition of solidified lava to the dome at the summit of the main crater, the outer layer of the dome has cooled in comparison to previous weeks, and micro-seismic activity is gradually decreasing both in terms of number of earthquakes and energy.

3. Flights over the top of the volcano over the past few days have confirmed that the main crater is capped and that gas and ash emissions are taking place in small quantity. Steam columns rose up to 500 m above the volcano. This behaviour has historically preceded volcanic eruptions. The National Director of INGEOMINAS has arrived from Bogotá and declared that the situation is "extremely critical". In the town of Pasto, a strong smell of sulphur prevails.

4. Intense rainfall has affected the area during the last hours. The Instituto Nacional de Vias (INVIAS) is removing the debris brought by the rains that is obstructing circulation along the main road connecting Pasto, La Florida, and Nariño municipalities. The National Police has restricted vehicle circulation in these areas from 21:00 to 07:00.


5. Several communities around the volcano are at high risk in Pasto, Nariño and La Florida. According to updated figures from the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), 8,463 residents would need to be evacuated.

6. A rental subsidy has been made available to households as an incentive to voluntarily abandon areas at risk. According to the CRC, a high percentage of families from Nariño and La Florida have opted to evacuate using this option.

7. Despite an information campaign on the need to evacuate and the availability of the subsidy, the CRC reports that approximately 7,242 people remain in at-risk areas and many temporary shelters remain empty. Twelve temporary reception centres with medical assistance (7 in Pasto, 4 in La Florida, and one in Nariño) are ready to receive the population unwilling to resort to the rental subsidy option. According to the Red Cross, as of 6 April, 299 households (1,221 persons) have moved to 5 temporary shelters (El Vergel, Potreros, Fontibón, El Rosal, Postobón) in Pasto municipality.

National and Local Response

8. The Government has activated its National Operations Committee and its committees at department and municipal level (CREPAD and CLOPAD); contingency plans, and reactivated the order to evacuate high-risk areas.

9. The preventive Disaster Zone status given to the area during the alert phase in November 2005 continues to exist. Civil Defense has declared an Orange Alert for Pasto and has been mobilizing its own resources as well as deploying volunteers to the zone.

10. The Government has signed an agreement with the Colombian Red Cross (CRC), through the National Disaster Fund (Fondo Nacional de Calamidades), whereby the CRC will manage evacuation transport subsidies, rental subsidies, and the economic support that will be given to evacuating families for the transportation and care of their animals.

11. The CRC, which is part of National Operations Committee, has mobilized response teams. In Pasto, an initial team of 22 health and relief personnel of the Nariño branch mobilized to support evacuation and shelter operations has been reinforced by a team of 57 staff and volunteers of the Cauca, Quindio, Risaralda, and Valle branches specialised in medical care, search and rescue, water and sanitation, temporary shelter management, and damage assessment. A third team of close to 230 people from the Cundinamarca, Boyaca, Caldas, Quindio, and Tolima branches are ready to be deployed to the area within 24 hours should the need arise.

12. The Government is taking measures to improve living conditions in temporary shelters and access to basic services. Whereas temporary shelters were initially set up with tents and plastic sheeting, they are being improved or built with corrugated iron sheeting and wooden structures. Nevertheless, a large number of tents remain in some of the shelters.

13. While the local municipal authorities will continue to coordinate matters related to camp management, the CRC will assume the responsibility to manage temporary shelters and has signed agreements to this effect with the mayors of Pasto, La Florida and Nariño.

14. The CRC and Oxfam GB undertook a survey to evaluate SPHERE standards compliance in 12 temporary shelters. At the time of this report, there is no information on the results of the survey.

15. The Red Cross movement (IFRC, and the national societies of Colombia, France, The Netherlands, Ecuador, Spain and the US) are supporting local health authorities and providing direct medical assistance in the shelters. The National Police has established a presence in all shelters, and Civil Defense is supporting food distribution in the temporary shelters in Pasto.
International response

16. The UN System's Technical Emergency Team (UNETE) met on 31 March to review the situation and agreed that WFP, OIM, WHO and OCHA would each deploy a staff member to Pasto to join up with WHO, UNHCR, OIM and UNDSS staff already in the area and form a UN team that will provide technical assistance to the local authorities as required. WHO will coordinate the team given its experience in the area and knowledge of the situation. OCHA has sent a staff member and a vehicle to Pasto in order to logistically and technically support the UN team.

17. OPS/WHO is providing technical support to the health authorities. Its sub-office in Pasto has visited three temporary shelters to monitor work in progress and assess needs. During the visit, WHO provided technical guidance to improve the quality of the centres and strengthen the capacity of the local authorities to provide psychosocial services.

18. At Bogotá level, OCHA will coordinate the UNETE together with WHO and will ensure permanent contact with the National Disaster Preparedness and Response System in order to guarantee a timely and adequate flow of information. The UNETE will meet on a weekly basis to monitor the evolution of the situation.

19 . OCHA is in close contact with the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombia and will revert with further information as it becomes available.

20. OCHA is prepared to accept cash contributions to be used for immediate relief assistance, in support of the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombia.

21. This situation report, together with further information on other ongoing emergencies is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at Map: Colombia: Galeras Volcano - Situation map

Telephone: +41-22-917 12 34Fax: +41-22-917 00 23E-mail:

In case of emergency only: Tel. +41-22-917 20 10

Desk Officer:

Ms. Marie SpaakE-mail: spaak@un.orgDirect Tel. +41-22-917 21 63
Press contact:

(GVA) Ms. Elizabeth Byrs, Direct Tel. + 41-22-917 2653
(N.Y.) Ms. Stephanie Bunker, Direct Tel. +1-917-367 51 26 / Mr. Brian Grogan, Direct Tel. +1-212-963 11 43

Nota: According to the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining a similar reduction of micro-seismic activity was recorded prior to the eruptions in 1991-93.

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