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Medical Aid Departs as Colombia Volcano Displaces Thousands

Respirators have been shipped to help with compromised air quality, and other essential medical aid has been offered to agencies responding to health needs.



Activity of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, near Manizales, Colombia, in March 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Colombian Geological Service)

A volcano with a deadly past may erupt once again in Colombia. Officials have ordered evacuations in response to a significant uptick in seismic activity and smoke plumes rising over the past month. More than 11,600 earthquakes have been detected in and around the Nevado del Ruiz, located in the Andes, a volcano responsible for one of the most deadly natural events in the western hemisphere, killing over 25,000 when it erupted in 1985.

The volcano sits near a population of roughly 57,000 people across several municipalities, poses a substantial threat to these communities and the increase in activity has triggered preventative evacuations.

Colombia’s Geological Service raised its alert level to orange, and at the beginning of April, the Disaster Risk Management Office began evacuating families located within 15 kilometers of the volcano.

Health Concerns

Volcanos can present health concerns, including respiratory challenges caused by volcanic ash and toxic particles in the air, burns and irritation, and compromised water sources. Displacement can also exacerbate chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, that often require medication to manage and treatments can be left behind during evacuation.

Direct Relief’s Wildfire Kits are often deployed during volcanic eruptions since the kits address similar health issues. The kits contain respiratory medications, ophthalmic products for eye irritation, products for burns and other skin issues, and chronic disease medications such as therapies for high blood pressure and diabetes.

Direct Relief Response

In preparation for a potential eruption in Colombia, a shipment of 70,000 N95 masks was shipped to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Colombia.

An offer of emergency medicines has also been presented to local and national agencies and includes Emergency Health Kits, which contain essential medicines often requested in times of emergency. The organization also offered Wildfire Kits and Field Medic Packs for triage care in mobile settings. Direct Relief staff will continue to monitor and coordinate responses accordingly.

Direct Relief has responded to volcanic eruptions in the past, including the Taal volcano eruption in the Philippines, and the Fuego volcano in Guatemala, which killed nearly 200 people.

Direct Relief will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia and respond as needed.

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