altThe Ubinas volcano, located in the department of Moquegua, in Peru, has been increasing its activity since 13 April, with explosions and columns of ash emissions, which have dispersed to an area 24 miles from the volcano's circumference. These have affected population centers, crops and livestock. National authorities have begun the process of evacuating the towns of Querapi, Tonohaya and San Carlos de Titi. About 5,000 people live in the 5 districts located in the volcano's influence zone. In response to this situation, the Ministry of Health and local health authorities have strengthened health care services with brigades, distribution of personal protective supplies, and the establishment of coordination and monitoring mechanisms.

pdf PAHO/WHO Situation Report No. 2 - 30 April 2014

pdf PAHO/WHO Situation Report No. 1 (2.01 MB) (in Spanish)

Volcanic eruptions can also have an impact on the lives and health of people, depending on their exposure to the different volcanic hazards, such as ash, explosions, gas emissions, mudflows or pyroclastic flows, and hazards caused by avalanches, such ash or tephra which may cause injury, eye disease, trauma injuries and even death, depending on the degree of exposure.

Access to health services may be affected by damage to health and communications infrastructure, or by contamination of water sources, limiting the care capacity. It can also affect livelihoods by damaging crops and livestock, and generating economic losses.

Health authorities have a key role in providing health services to the populations evacuated and affected by volcanic eruptions. They activate plans that have been pre-established and coordinated with civil defense institutions, pre-position supplies, medicines and personnel trained in the management of this hazard, issue technical advice, and generate assistance response models according to scenarios presented by experts monitoring volcanic activity. In addition, they monitor water quality and ensure the operation of health facilities in safe areas and that health professionals trained in such emergencies are present, either in evacuation sites or by deploying mobile teams, adjust their plans, adjust contingency plans and take care of epidemiological surveillance, increase service capacity, and generate alternative patient referral networks, and always work in coordination with all actors of the emergency system.

The inhabitants of nearby areas may be evacuated to shelters where measures must be taken to ensure good conditions-sanitary and hygienic, security and coexistence-so that health is maintained, chronic diseases, both previous and in treatment, are controlled, and take advantage of the situation by providing disease-prevention advice, and promoting healthy living habits. Furthermore, mental health care activities should be incorporated, as these situations can be prolonged, depending on the volcanic activity, and this, in turn, may result in emotional instability following the temporary loss of the quality of life.

General recommendations for health systems

  • Maintain communications and coordination mechanisms with the authorities responsible for early warning and civil defense, and with scientific bodies, to receive constant and updated information.
  • Review, update and disseminate contingency plans, including:
    • Security of health personnel and their families.
    • Evaluation of the health services network, using volcanic hazard maps.
    • Providing supplies and drugs.
    • Ensuring self-sufficiency of basic services (until foreign aid is received, according to situation analysis).
    • Availability of staff, referral and counter-referral of patients.
    • Protection mechanisms and cleaning supplies basic systems (water, sewer, power) of the health facilities.
    • Ensure storage of supplies and water management necessary for health services and monitoring of water quality.
  • Establish a risk communication plan that clearly conveys all recommendations to health institutions and the community, and helps to answer frequently asked questions, and clarifies care mechanisms and sites.

Additional information

Volcanic eruptions
Water control and sanitation
Lessons learned