Montserrat, British Overseas Territory as an example of an LEDC dealing with Vulcanicity

Montserrat, British Overseas Territory



Montserrat is a small caribbean island. On it is a composite volcano called Soufriere Hills. It is near the plate boundary between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate.


Nature of the Hazard:

In 1995 earthquakes, small eruptions and Lahars started, continuing till 1997.

25th June 1997  a series of small earthquakes and pyroclastic flows.

After more earthquakes the main eruption occurred. About 4 -5 million cubic metres of material was released in 20 mins. Pyroclastic flows travelled several kms and reached within 50 m of the airport. Eruption led to large ash cloud and there were further eruptions over the following months.


Impact of the event:


  • Airport eventually destroyed by a pyroclastic flow in september 1997.
  • Total loss in value of people’s homes and investments was estimated at 1 billion pounds.
  • Capital city Plymouth along with much of the island evacuated prior to the eruption in 1997.
  • At the time there were calls on the British government to give citizens of the Island British Citizenship in exchange for Montserrat reform of tax policy, Montserrat had previously been seen as a tax haven. Some suggestions existed that the government trying to offer “tied aid” is this way was immoral.
  • 2/3rd of homes on the island were destroyed by pyroclastic flows, over the time the volcano has been erupting.
  • Tourists stayed away due to the destroyed airport and port therefore leading to a decline in the tourism industry. Businesses were destroyed by the pyroclastic flows.


  • 19 people died and 7 were injured
  • Thousands were made homeless
  • Decline in population from 12000 to 4000.


  • Large areas submerged under ash and mud meaning destruction of animal habitats and danger to human life.
  • Vegetation, farmland and wildlife destroyed, terrible effect for a country reliant on agriculture.
  • Volcanic ash improved soil fertility however land in evacuation zone is still not used


Management of the event:


  • People evacuated from south to the safe zone in the north. First of these evacuations took place in 1995
  • Shelters built to house evacuees.
  • Temporary infrastructure including roads and electric supplies.
  • UK provided 17 million pounds in emergency aid
  • Local emergency services assisted with search and rescue.



  • Country previously had no disaster management plan but now they have a prepared plan should the volcano erupt resulting in destruction of the current “safe area”.
  • 41 million in long term aid to help develop the north, including development of Little Bay which will be complete by 2020 this will become the new capital with a focus on tourism.   
  • Montserrat volcano observatory has been set up to observe and predict potential future eruptions.