Is the hazard of a volcanic eruption always a natural event?

Mount Nyiragongo , DR Congo.

Mount Nyiragongo , DR Congo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is easy to think that this is a stupid question with an obvious answer. we assume that a volcano is always a natural disaster that is not influenced by humans in any way, it is just something that we have to deal with and learn to live with. However, although the eruption itself is natural, the hazard that comes with it can be made worse by human influences. Take Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: this is an unusually active volcano and is a massive natural threat to the people who live below it in the city of Goma, however the threat is made worse by the huge conflict that is going on in the DRC and around Goma. this has led to several issues that have made the threat of the volcano a lot worse than it would be if human influences didn’t exist.

MEDFLAG 2010, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of...

MEDFLAG 2010, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, September 2010 (Photo credit: US Army Africa)

Firstly the conflict itself has meant that there is huge danger to foreign scientists and geologists who are trying to monitor the volcanoes activity in order to predict the next eruption. the war has made it hard to enter the country and has put many people off from even trying. The DRC is an undeveloped country and doesn’t have the financial means or the expertise to investigate the volcano themselves. also several rebel groups have prevented the volcano from being monitored as they control the slopes of the volcano because they use them as important strategic positions overlooking the city of Goma. these rebel groups have also looted any equipment that did make it to the slopes. all of this has increased the hazard that this volcano already presents as without being able to monitor the volcano and predict the next eruption, it will be very hard to send out accurate warnings to the people who live in the shadow of Mt Nyiragongo. therefore the likelihood of people being killed and property being damaged or lost is significantly greater than it would be if these issues created by humans didn’t exist. Although some warning did manage to get through to authorities in Goma prior to the 2002 eruption, many of these authorities chose to ignore them, so they didn’t benefit most people in Goma. therefore although the initial risk of the volcano is natural the several human influences have the potential to make the risk of disaster a lot greater than it would have been if the physical factors were just on their own.

Despite this though the eruption of Mt Nyiragongo is still very much a natural one as the volcano’s unusual lava makes it more hazardous than normal. Mt Nyiragongo is a composite volcano and therefore shaped like a cone, however it has the characteristics of a shield volcano as its lava has very low silica content meaning it is not as thick and as acidic as lava that is usually associated with a composite volcano is. the volcano is made even more hazardous as it contains the world’s largest lava lake which builds up over time and then overflows and is sent poring down the mountainside like water. the lava can travel at speeds of 60 mph. usually lava from a volcanic eruption is not dangerous to human lives as it can be outrun easily. but this lava can travel so quickly that it is a lot more hazardous than normal lava. therefore the hazard of this eruption could be as easily increased by the volcano’s unusual nature than the issues surrounding human conflict, meaning it remains a natural event.

The hazard of a volcanic eruption will always be partly due to the volcano itself as Mt. Nyiragongo has illustrated with its unusual lava type. however, the conflict in the DRC has meant that the hazard of the volcano and the risk to human lives has increased as it has made it very hard to monitor the volcano and therefore predict the eruptions and even when these predictions are made, they are usually ignored by the authorities. therefore the hazard of a volcanic eruption can be made greater by human factors and would not be down to natural factors alone.

Sources

information about Mount Nyiragongo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo sourced from the following:

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