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Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK


Cure for volcano legacy

Thousands of people fled the island after the 1997 eruptions

A team of academics from Coventry University is working on plans to help regenerate the volcano-ravaged Caribbean island of Montserrat.

It is investigating ways to kick-start the island's vegetation and economy following the repeated eruptions of the Soufriere Hills volcano in 1997.

Thousands of people fled after the eruptions and lava flows, which devastated much of the south of the island, and left its capital, Plymouth, engulfed in ash.

The southern section of the island is still an exclusion zone, and the island's agriculture and infrastructure has not yet recovered.

Building materials

But the Coventry team is hoping to help change that, and is looking at four specific ways in which to do so.

It wants to investigate the commercial use of the island's volcanic material, like pumice and ash, for the manufacture of building materials.

[ image: The capital Plymouth was left covered in ash]
The capital Plymouth was left covered in ash
It is also proposing to stabilise the land through an extensive programme of replanting to prevent erosion, investigate the possiblity of using the volcanic ash as a fertiliser, and run a series of workshops on small business creation to help boost the island's economy.

The team has recently returned from a visit to the island at the invitation of its governor Anthony Abbott, OBE.

It plans to submit a bid for a grant of about £250,000 to examine the feasibility of its proposals to Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) shortly.

Dr Apollo Economides, Associate Dean of the university's School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, led the delegation to Montserrat.

'It's like the Marie Celeste'

He was joined by three colleagues from Coventry - botanist Dr Georg Waldmann, whose interest in Montserrat sparked the university's involvement with the island, Dr Tom Dijkstra and Dr Martin Underwood.

Animal specialist Michael Stevens, from the University of Dusseldorf in Germany, also took part in the visit with a view to becoming involved in a regeneration project.

Dr Economides said: "In the pre-volcano days, the capital Plymouth was in the south where there was good agriculture.

"Now it's like the Marie Celeste. Nobody lives there, and tourism has switched off. The island is still shell-shocked.

"It lost all its earning capacity - 85% of the income of the island now comes via the British Government.


"There have been a number of academics going in and out for their own research purposes, but we have stepped back to look at what might be done for the economic regeneration of the island."

Volcanic material was widely used for building materials in Germany, and a couple of tonnes of this material was due to be brought over to Coventry next month to be analysed, he said.

Replacing vegetation would not only help stabilise the land, preventing ash from becoming airborne; it would also help restore the island's natural fauna and flora.

Health and safety issues have also got to be considered - the ash contains a form of the mieral quartz which can cause the lung disease silicosis. Tiny particles of dust become embedded in the lungs, eventually leading to suffocation.

"We are optimistic that the bid to the DFID will be successful", said Dr Economides. "The people of Montserrat will be involved and consulted every step of the way."

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