The European Union has deployed experts in geology and environmental pollution to Argentina, where they will participate in the independent risk assessment of the eruption of the Chilean Puyehué volcano. The assessment is led by the Joint Environment Unit of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In early June, Puyehué sent in the atmosphere deposits of volcanic ash which raised the risk of mud slides and contamination of surface water, air and agricultural products. Deployed in response to Argentina’s request to the United Nations, the expert mission will work closely with Argentina’s Civil Protection services and will give technical advice on immediate mitigation and prevention measures.
Three of the four experts in the team have been provided by the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and the fourth one has been appointed by UNEP and OCHA.The team will stay in Argentina until 19 July and will visit several areas affected by the eruption. The mission will analyse any immediate risks for human health triggered by volcanic ash and gases. The experts will also advise on the methodology for analysing soil, water and air samples and on the interpretation of data on air and water quality.
An explosive eruption of Chile’s Puyehué volcano on 4 June 2011 caused the evacuation of 4,200 people in Chile and emitted ash plumes 10km high into the atmosphere. This produced reaching substantial ash deposits in down-wind areas in Patagonia, Argentina.
The European Civil Protection Mechanism facilitates cooperation in disaster response among 31 European states (EU-27 plus Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). The participating countries pool the resources that can be made available to disaster-stricken countries all over the world. When activated, the Mechanism coordinates the provision of assistance inside and outside the European Union. The European Commission manages the Mechanism through the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC).
Since its creation in 2001, the Mechanism has been activated for disasters in Member States (like the forest fires in Portugal and floods in the Balkans in 2010) but also worldwide, including recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Japan.
The European Civil Protection Mechanism has a long record of cooperation with the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit. This cooperation has produced a number of joint environmental operations, including in the follow-up of the oil spill in the Republic of Korea, during the oil spill clean-up in the course of the Lebanon crisis, and the chemical spill in Cote d’Ivoire.