By Sean Rose – May 28th, 2021 (Part 1)
Should Vincentians relocate from the communities located in the Volcanic Red Zone? Is it wiser to rebuild the homes damaged by the ash fall and lahars? Or should we simply relocate residents whose homes were destroyed during the eruption? If so, where should they be relocated to? How many houses are we talking about? Over 100? Should we create a new settlement in either the orange, yellow, or the green zone areas of SVG, for the affected residents to call home? Is it possible to establish a new OTR community?
Those are just some of questions being interrogated by several enquiring minds in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and abroad. To rebuild or relocate? That is the central question. But there’s a lot more to consider as well. Let’s recall that communities once existed north of the Wallibou river on the Leeward side of the island. The final chapter for residential communities in those areas came after the devastating eruption phase of 1902-03.
The villages of Frasers, moving north to Mourne Rhonde, Larikai, Windsor Forest, Baliene and Campobello were all abandoned. Just over 100 years later, April 9, 2021 most of those areas were occupied only by cannabis farmers seeking higher heights. It is a fact that Fancy Village didn’t suffer the kind of damage seen in other areas around the volcano, after the 32 explosive blasts in April this year. This probably explains why Fancy remained occupied to this day, while the settlement called Gramacoo, slightly further east of Fancy, was also abandoned. Let’s recall too, the populated area of Lot-14, just beneath the volcano, a short hop from Waterloo and Turema, was also devastated in the 1902-03 eruption phase. Several people died there on May 7th 1902. No one has ever returned to occupy the village of Lot-14. Some folks today don’t even know that Lot-14 was once a community bustling with activity. (Source)
There is a crucial question that demands an answer from every Vincentian. Is it safe, feasible or sustainable to repair or reconstruct all of the homes that were either damaged or destroyed, in the communities north of the Rabacca river, since the April 9th, 2021 eruption cycle of La Soufriere?
The picturesque landscape that lines the foothills of the volcano is home to approximately 6000 people. The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) recently approved the resettlement of areas south of the Rabacca valley. At the moment, the volcanic red zone also encompasses the northeastern town of Georgetown and neighboring villages. Those areas also recorded high levels of ash fall. Therefore, the matter of relocation from, or rebuilding in the volcanic red zone can’t be based solely on the impact of ash fall. The threats to lives and livelihoods must feature prominently when considering this challenging question.
We are all aware that matters related to sustainability will not vanish at the behest of a magic wand. They will not cease to exist at the whims and fancies of emotionally charged arguments. Whether we live North or South of the Rabacca river, consider this fact. Each community located north of Rabacca are approximately three (3) miles, give or take a few, from the summit of the volcano. No magic wand can change that fact. Not can we change the fact that since the April-2021 eruptions, we have incurred an estimated XCD$34.8 million in damage to homes, and some $17 million in complete damages. The trail of damage is evident in communities closest to the Volcano. The estimates given were tabulated before the destructive lahars in May.
We can all agree on another basic fact. A cloud of uncertainty still looms at the summit of La Soufriere. Like some of you, I too have seen the recent amateur photos and videos of the volcano. Persistent steaming and gas venting from various features inside the summit crater are ongoing. News784 recently quoted Dr. Adam Stinton, head of the La Soufriere monitoring team saying, “in the foreseeable future, permanent reoccupation for parts of the Red zone is not possible at this time”. Stinton elaborated further saying; “The main reason for that is for us to be confident that the La Soufriere is not going to change its current state and become more active again; we need to restrengthen our monitoring networks.”
Apart from the possibility of more eruptions, the foothills of Soufriere are obviously prone to the destructive impact of mudflows that can come gushing down the steep valleys. We can anticipate interruptions to traffic when roads are blocked or wiped out. We can foresee further disruption to healthcare, eduction and other basic services for communities in those areas, in the near and distant future. From mudflows alone. Having said all that, we celebrate the resilience shown by Vincentians who call Over The River (OTR) home. That resilience is deeply embedded in the heart and soul of our Vincentian history and culture. The question is, however, should we rebuild over there, or create a new, homogenous residential community south of the Rabacca valley? I’ll be coming again soon with part-2!