The plume of ash and smoke stretches miles into the atmosphere
The eruption of the San Cristobal volcano on Wednesday December 26th, 2012 caused the Nicaraguan authorities to order the evacuation of several hundred people living near it –most of them famers.
Officials declared an amber alert for five sq. km (two sq. miles) around the volcano, which began spewing ash and gas two and a half miles into the sky. The plume affected the eastern communities located within the 10 miles from the crater. Most of these communities suffered ash rain fall affecting not only the animal fodder availability, but damaging their seasonal crops, especially peanut and sorghum- an an important world crop, used for food.
The 1,745-metre volcano (5,700-foot) is the highest mountain in Nicaragua and one of the most active along the Pacific Coast. It is located about 135 km north-west of Managua and last erupted in September covering farm lands and pastures with volcanic debris; creating a lack of food, water and grazing land.
The Nicaraguan army has sent rescue teams to the area and the First Lady and government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo has urged families to follow evacuation routes as a precaution as the ash rains down.
Communities are suffering from mild throat and lip irritation and skin burns- especially on their feet and arms- due to the toxic nature of the gases. Their animals are suffering from mild starvation and respiratory problems, plus lack of water and pastures.
The repercussion of volcanic ash on humans is terrible, but for animals the situation can be so much worse. Settling volcanic debris creates a cement-like mud, sticking to grass and agriculture lands. Because it is toxic and glass-like, if ingested by animals it can cause huge digestive and intestinal problems as well as grinding down their teeth.
The estimated number of affected families is approximately 1180, but could potentially reach up to 20,000 people. Local authorities have reported the following animals being present in the affected area:
- 2000 cattle
- 200 pigs
- 150 horses
- 3000 poultry
They also describe an estimated 150-400 companion animals being left behind after people were evacuated. Horses though, are a main area of concern for the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA), as they are used as a tool of work for farmers. If we do not intervene the number of causalities due to injury or ailment could have lasting effects on livelihoods.
The WSPA Disaster response team are assessing the situation to see if they can intervene and provide useful support for animals on the ground, if so, we hope to:
- Provide emergency feed and water to pets and farm animals
- Create radio spots with tips on preparedness for future ash-falls
- Provide assessment to Nicaraguan government with recommendations on how to cope with continued volcanic activity
- Have a veterinary team on standby
All images are © WSPA/Tomas Stargardter