The weight of the ash can damage not only vegetation but buildings as well. (Photo credit: Prof Robertson, UWI-SRC)

Member of Parliament for Cumuto / Manzanilla, Dr Rai Ragbir MP, is urging Government to prepare for “the health and medical repercussions to citizens”, should volcanic ash from the erupting La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines reach T&T airspace.

In a statement released today, Dr Ragbir observes that the region already is experiencing high levels of Saharan Dust, and the added complication of volcanic ash in the atmosphere is a major concern. He warns that should the Easterly Trade winds intensify in velocity, the result could be volcanic ash being pushed in a more southerly direction towards Trinidad and Tobago.

He is calling on government to be proactive and have a plan of action in place should this occur.

“As a medical Doctor, I am deeply concerned about the health of those impacted, as inhaling volcanic ash can be extremely fatal to human health, resulting from respiratory complications due to the harmful aerosols and poisonous gases that are present in volcanic,” Dr Ragbir says in the release.

He added: “Persons can also experience symptoms similar to that of the Coronavirus, such as runny nose, sore throat, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath—and in some cases, an attack of bronchitis.  Those with pre-existing conditions can also experience visual challenges as eyes may become itchy or bloodshot.  There can be corneal abrasions or scratches, resulting in conjunctivitis.”

The Cumuto / Manzanilla MP said in the midst of the volcanic eruption, containing the spread of the coronavirus becomes even more of a challenge.

“In their desperation to flee the devastation, persons will most likely abandon the health protocols.  Those in mandatory quarantine may have to be relocated altogether.  The process of vaccinating persons may have to be halted, and airlifting vaccines to the country may be suspended,” he warns.

The weight of the ash is too much for the coconut trees. The impact on vegetation is devastating in the short term but beneficial in the long term. (Photo credit: Prof Robertson, UWI-SRC)

Dr Ragbir also notes that the volcanic eruption is not just a geographic event but also poses social and economic challenges.

“Livestock can also succumb to the many health challenges that humans face, including contaminated water, a shortage of feedstock, decimated pastures, and sheer abandonment by owners fleeing the devastation,” he says. 

“The island’s tourism sector, already hard-hit by travel restrictions arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be plagued by even more curtailment of air travel, given the visibility challenges posed by the thick volcanic ash,” he points out. “And agricultural produce, another mainstay of the island will also be lost, due to crops being covered by volcanic ash.”

The Cumuto / Manzanilla MP says this country cannot afford to be complacent in light of what is happening so close by.  He urges government have a proper action plan in place, should the worst-case scenario occur.