Saturday, May 29, 2010

Volcanic Eruptions in Guatemala and Ecuador

This has been a banner year for ash spew. My guess is that we will see a short term global temperature dip as a result of all of the recent activity. Cue climate change denialists... Now. Volcán Pacaya near Guatemala City and Volcán Tungurahua returned to active eruption this past week. Pacaya apparently emitted more than just ash on nearby communities, and the linked article includes a short but harrowing tale of one mother hiding with her kids under the bed as marble-sized hot rocks rained on her house.

I don't know either Pacaya or Guatemala City, but I do know Tungurahua and its nearby tourist haven Baños from years of traveling to Ecuador. Back in the 1990s Baños was a hopping backpacker's town, full of the retinue of Israeli, Australian, and Gringo shoestring travelers making the trip from Buenos Aires to Bogotá. Of course, this also meant there was a large ex-pat community running businesses catering to the travelers. I have fond memories of Baños, though I haven't been there in close to ten years. I spent part of my honeymoon there, including a day riding horses on the slopes of Tungurahua.

Baños's economy began to struggle in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to a series of eruptions from Tungurahua, which re-awoke in 1999. The latest major eruption, which sent ash to Guayaquil and on to the Pacific, will undoubtedly hurt the local economy again. In some ways, it seems that the precariousness of Baños's economy is analogous to the position Ecuador holds in the international economy-- dependent on outside dollars (both literally and figuratively), on the whims of natural phenomena beyond its control (be it volcanic eruptions, El Niño-induced droughts, etc.), and on the irrationalities of the international economic order. Baños is not only downstream from Tungurahua, it's also just upstream from a major hydroelectric dam project- the Agoyan Dam on the Pastaza River made famous again a few years ago in the opening scenes of John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman. It's a beautiful place, but its trapped, as Ecuador is more generally, between the grinding pressures of natural instability and international "development."

(Cross posted here.)