More than 500 million people live within the potential exposure range of a volcano. The risk of catastrophic losses in future eruptions is significant given population growth, proximities of major cities to volcanoes, and the possibility of larger eruptions. The objectives of this review are to describe the impact of volcanoes on the human population, in terms of mortality, injury, and displacement and, to the extent possible, identify risk factors associated with these outcomes. This is one of five reviews on the human impact of natural disasters.
Data on the impact of volcanoes were compiled using two methods, a historical review of volcano events from 1900 to 2009 from multiple databases and a systematic literature review of publications ending in October 2012. Analysis included descriptive statistics and bivariate tests for associations between volcano mortality and characteristics using STATA 11.
There were a total of 91,789 deaths (range: 81,703-102,372), 14,068 injuries (range 11,541-17,922), and 4.72 million people affected by volcanic events between 1900 and 2008. Inconsistent reporting suggests this is an underestimate, particularly in terms of numbers injured and affected. The primary causes of mortality in recent volcanic eruptions were ash asphyxiation, thermal injuries from pyroclastic flow, and trauma. Mortality was concentrated with the ten deadliest eruptions accounting for more than 80% of deaths; 84% of fatalities occurred in four locations (the Island of Martinique (France), Colombia, Indonesia, and Guatemala).
Changes in land use practices and population growth provide a background for increasing risk; in conjunction with increasing urbanization in at risk areas, this poses a challenge for future volcano preparedness and mitigation efforts.