Case study: low-income developing country - Chaiten eruption, May 2008

Chaiten is a small volcano in western Chile in the Andes fold mountains. Beneath it is a destructive plate margin, where the Nazca plate subducts under the South American plate. It is tectonically active with earthquakes and occasional volcanic eruptions.

Chaiten is in Chile, in south-western South America. It sits on the boundary between the South American and Nazca plates.
  • In May 2008 the volcano erupted after being dormant for 9,000 years.
  • The eruption was violent, producing lava, ash, pyroclastic flows and minor earthquakes.
  • The ash cloud could be seen from space and the volcano increased in size greatly due to lava deposition.

Impacts

  • The towns of Chaiten and Futaleufu were evacuated. Both towns were coated in ash, as were local farms.
  • Airports and highways were closed due to the ash dangers, both in Chile and neighbouring countries, eg Argentina.
  • The air pollution generated by the ash caused health problems for people.
  • Volcanic mud flows called lahars blocked roads making local people even more isolated than usual. Rivers channels became blocked too causing flooding.

Responses

  • The national government brought in the army, air force and navy to evacuate the 5,000 locals and give them food and fresh water.
  • The government supported people socially and economically.
  • The government accepted help from the USA to help monitor the volcano as it erupted.
  • The Chilean government plans (in the long term) to set up monitoring for all the high-risk volcanoes in the country and to create an early warning system.
  • Chile accepted aid and support from other South American countries and the wider world.