The costs of waiting for a volcano to erupt
By Dr. Peter Ward
Earthquakes began rumbling under Agung volcano on the “Paradise Island” of Bali in Indonesia on August 10, 2017. These small earthquakes drew immediate attention because Mt. Agung, which dominates the island’s landscape, had erupted in 1963, killing more than 1100 people. Was Agung reawakening? Could a major eruption be imminent?
Now, more than four months later, no life-threatening eruption has occurred although small eruptions have kept people on edge. The threat level has been lowered and raised a few times. Many people have returned to their homes, often to flee again when volcanic activity seems to increase. Meanwhile, the costs of this deadly cat and mouse game between humans and Nature continue to escalate.
The economic consequences of warning of an eruption that does not happen can be greater than the cost of the eruption if it does occur. Nevertheless, these costs pale compared to the value of saving thousands of lives through effective warnings.
We can live safely with volcanoes. The challenge for volcanologists and emergency managers is to make early warning as accurate as possible and to communicate the best estimates of risk effectively to the people at risk, who can then, individually and collectively, seek ways to adapt that will not break the bank.