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August 14, 2014

Using the Wisdom of Hokkaido to Aim for Coexistence with Active Volcanoes
Trainees from Latin American volcanic countries participate in disaster prevention and management training

photoThe Nevado del Ruiz, a volcano located right on the equator on Colombia, is called “the Sleeping Lion”. (Photo: Tadahide Ui)

The horseshoe-shaped Pacific Ring of Fire runs to 40,000 kilometers. Japan, located in the west of the ring, is known as the world’s main volcanic country. Latin American countries, located in the east of the ring, also have many active volcanoes and some of them still continue progressive eruptive activities to this date. Volcanoes on the one hand bring on horrible disasters eruption, but at the same time bring various fruits of the earth such as geothermal heat and hot springs.

Learning volcanic disaster prevention from different angles

photoTrainees pose for photos at the Nishiyama volcanic cone groups in Toyakocho. Clear marks of volcanic cones and ground uplift are left in this area.

Hokkaido has more than 20 active volcanoes including Koma-ga-take, Mount Tokachi and Usu Volcano. JICA Hokkaido has implemented the training program Volcanic Disaster Prevention and Management for Central and South American Countries designated for the volcanic countries in Latin America since 2009.

This year, for a 38-day training session that started June 3, eight people including government administrators and scientists engaged in volcanic disaster prevention from Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Nicaragua were invited to Sapporo city to receive the training.

With cooperation from an NPO, Crisis & Environment Management Policy Institute, the government, scientists, local community and mass media gathered to work together. The trainees learned volcanic disaster prevention from eminent volcano experts, relevant parties of the local government from areas surrounding volcanoes and others as lecturers, in order to be able to build a structure for volcanic disaster preparedness.

photoWith permission, participants walk a rocky path of Showa-Shinzan (Usu-gun), showing interest in the geological conditions of the lava dome.

The training course was led by Hiromu Okada, emeritus professor of Hokkaido University, known as “the doctor in charge of Usu Volcano.” After making it through scientific knowledge, the trainees observed active volcanoes and surrounding areas in various locations in Hokkaido. Through opinion exchanges with local residents and other activities, they learned actual cases of Japanese disaster mitigation, streamlining disaster risk management and capacity building.

Based on the viewpoint that teaching correct knowledge to children is important because they are responsible for the next generation, the trainees also learned the “kitchen volcano experiment,” a method of teaching children using familiar materials like cocoa or condensed milk instead of research equipment.

With all these experiences, they came to realize how Japanese disaster prevention culture was developed.

The training period overlapped with the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and trainees from Columbia spent busy days cheering for their national team from Sapporo, far away from their home, as well as actively participating in the training.

Interacting with local residents

photoTrainees treated the training implementing agency and relevant parties with homemade empanadas and other local dishes.

On June 17, 1929, there was a great eruption of Koma-ga-take, causing over 10,000 meters of volcanic smoke and pyroclastic flow, part of which arrived at a seacoast 10 kilometers away. The damage caused by volcanic cinders and pyroclastic flow was extended to eight towns and villages in the surrounding area.

On June 17, 2014, 85 years after that eruption, a lecture entitled “Koma-ga-dake Disaster Prevention Meeting” was held in a community center located at the foot of the Koma-ga-dake. Volcanic experts and local residents participated in the meeting and shared experience and knowledge from the eruption with JICA trainees from Latin American countries.

The trainees also played the role of lecturers, giving speeches on volcanic eruptions in the world. Maria Fernanda Naranjo Hidalgo from the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute gave a presentation on the volcano Tungurahua outside the capital city of Quito, and Oscar Mauricio Portillo Centino from the Alcaldia Municipal Civil Protection Department talked about the eruption of San Miguel in El Salvador, located in the south of the country, in 2013 for the first time in 37 years. He also talked about the situation at the time of the eruption and the evacuation response.

Over 100 attendees raised many questions relating to the situation of evacuation and other topics.

The trainees invited the training implementing agency and relevant parties to a lunch on a Sunday during the training period to show thanks for their work and support. They treated them with homemade local dishes from each country such as ceviche, empanadas, soup with meat balls, and tortillas made with potatoes as a substitute for corn. The heartfelt gift from the trainees became a good recreation opportunity for both the trainees and the relevant Japanese parties.

To live with volcanoes

photoThe trainees also engaged in volcano sightseeing. Lake Toya is the third-largest caldera lake in Japan and it has the active volcanoes the Usu Volcano and the Showa-Shinzan.

For the people in Hokkaido, the 2000 eruption of Usu Volcano is still a fresh memory. While volcanoes could cause tremendous disasters, they also are attractive to tourists. Not only are volcanoes used in energy applications such as hot springs, heated swimming pools and geothermal electric power generation, they continue to fascinate visitors with the beautiful scenery they create, such as Lake Toya, which has been designated as a Geopark (*) by the Global Geoparks Network.

For trainees, too, “coexistence with volcanoes” is an important key concept. They used examples to deepen the understanding of regional residents of both the threats and blessings volcanoes bring.

Volcano expert Martha Lizette Ibarra Carcache from the Institute of Territorial Studies in Nicaragua, upon completion of the observation, said, “It is excellent that the surrounding areas are protected as a Geopark, and the way disaster prevention education is implemented for children by teaching them how residents coexist with volcanoes. ”

In a past training program, some trainees actually created brochures for children and used them in the areas surrounding volcanoes.

Though the 38-day training in Japan was completed, it will be after their return when its result is flourished. JICA will continue to provide assistance to the volcanic countries aiming to coexist with active volcanoes in Central and South America


*Natural parks designated by Global Geoparks Network, established in 2004 with the support of UNESCO. The designated parks are asked to protect geoscientifically important natural heritage, and at the same time activate the area in sustainable way by utilizing them for local education, scientific promotion, sightseeing business and other purposes.

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