Issue of November, 10, 2002
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Volcanic Impacts
Volcanoes are sleeping giants that can wake up at any time, renewing millennium-old fears among human populations. Eruptions are accompanied by telluric movement -- earthquakes -- and by the massive production of gases, lava, steam, rocks and ash.

A cloud of ash covered the Ecuadorian capital earlier this month, reviving an episode that had already caused serious environmental, economic, social and health problems in 1999. Just days earlier, settlements near the slopes of Mount Aetna in Italy had to be evacuated due to an eruption, which collapsed a school, killing several children.

These volcanic events are a sharp reminder of the force of the seemingly innocuous mountains, and of the vulnerability of the populations living near the sleeping giants, which are beautiful formations -- until they become active and dangerous.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued a special warning on these dangers, reminding the public that 10 percent of the world's population lives near volcanoes. Even more shocking is that 76 percent of the deaths caused by volcanic eruptions in the 20th century occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Internet is replete with information about volcanoes. There are websites with detailed explanations about their characteristics, the consequences of eruptions, and maps of their locations, whether on land or on the ocean floor.

Ecuador is home to more than 40 volcanoes, many of which are active. Since 1999, when Quito was covered by ash, the capital's residents have been informed about what to do in case of another eruption.

It may seem that eruptions occur only rarely, but some active volcanoes have more frequent activity, as evidenced on some websites that maintain ongoing records of volcanic events.

Such movements are generated for forces that are so great as to be incomprehensible, and which originate in the depths of our planet Earth

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