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Smoke and ash leave La Soufriere volcano in northern St Vincent after its eruptio,n last Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo: Caribbean Development Bank)

Volcano could seriously affect St Vincent’s GDP — finance minister

Smoke and ash leave La Soufriere volcano in northern St Vincent after its eruptio,n last Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo: Caribbean Development Bank)

The St Vincent and Grenadines Government says the loss and damage caused by last month’s explosive eruption of La Soufriere volcano could amount to 50 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“Even preliminary, incomplete assessments of the damage and the loss that we face are sobering estimates,” Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, said, adding: “Even without going to the full extent of the Red Zone, the Orange Zone and up the mountains, we know that clean-up costs will exceed EC$30 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37).

St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves (Photo: iWitness News)

“We know that there’s damage to over 5,000 buildings exceeding [EC]$35 million. We know that at least EC$175 million of loss and damage has been inflicted on the agricultural sector, and some estimates are as high as US$150 million.

“We know that in the red zone, 100 per cent of crops, vegetable crops, have been destroyed; 65 per cent of arrowroot crops, 90 per cent of tree crops, and 80 per cent of root crops have been destroyed,” said Gonsalves, who last week presented an EC$117.9-million supplementary budget to Parliament in response to the eruption.

Gonsalves said that hundreds of livestock, including sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, and thousands of chickens have been lost.

Ash and smoke billow as the La Soufriere volcano erupts in Kingstown on the eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent. (Photo: Robertson S Henry/Reuters)

“We know that there’s over EC$50 million in damage to our forest. And the evaluators, quite naturally, couldn’t get all the way up into the mountains to evaluate the full extent of the damage to our forestry.

“We know that there’s damage to our public utility infrastructure — water, electricity generation and distribution capacity. And all of this preliminary data, sobering as it is, excludes large swathes in the Red and Orange zones that were inaccessible at the time of the assessment,” he said.

Gonsalves said that the assessments were done before the torrential rains that sent flooding and lahars down hillsides and cause even more damage to the infrastructure, lives and livelihoods.

“We know that there’s damage to over 5,000 buildings exceeding [EC]$35 million. We know that at least EC$175 million of loss and damage has been inflicted on the agricultural sector, and some estimates are as high as US$150 million”

— Camillo Gonsalves, minister of finance, St Vincent and the Grenadines

“And while we hope that the volcano has completed the explosive phase of its eruptions, the scientists have not given us any such iron-clad assurance,” Gonsalves said.

“And when the assessments are complete, it is entirely possible, indeed likely, that loss and damage could well approach 50 per cent of the gross domestic product of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Meanwhile, volcanologist, Dr Adam Stinton, said Monday that the seismic activity at La Soufrière, continues to remain “quiet’ and that it has remained low since the tremor associated with the explosion and ash venting on April 22.

Smoke and ash leave La Soufriere volcano in northern St Vincent after its eruptio,n last Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Photo: Caribbean Development Bank)

“Since we last spoke on Friday morning, the volcano has continued its pattern of being very quiet seismically. We have had very few, if any, seismic events since Friday,” he said on the State-owned NBC Radio programme hosted by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

“Observations…are showing that steaming is continuing and steam can be seen coming out of the crater,” he said, adding “so there is still some residual unrest occurring at the volcano at the moment”.

In its latest bulleting, the Seismic Research Centre (SRC) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) had reported that in the in the last 24 hours, only a few long-period earthquakes have been recorded.

It said that measurement of sulphur dioxide flux at La Soufrière yielded an average SO2 flux of 722 tons per day, warning that escalation in activity can still take place with little or no warning.

“The next gas measurements are due tomorrow afternoon and after that Friday. We expecting two measurements for the gas flux this week,” he said, adding “ the gas seems to be varying between hundred tonnes and thousands of tons per day”.