Articles | Volume 10, issue 2
26 Feb 2010
 | 26 Feb 2010

People living under threat of volcanic hazard in southern Iceland: vulnerability and risk perception

G. Jóhannesdóttir and G. Gísladóttir

Abstract. Residents in the village of Vík and in the farming community of Álftaver in southern Iceland are living with the threat of volcanic hazards. The highly active subglacial volcano Katla has erupted approximately twice per century since the beginning of settlement around 874 AD. The last major eruption was in 1918 and Katla has recently entered an agitated stage. The purpose of this research was to (1) review residents' responses in relation to vulnerability, (2) examine their risk perception, preparedness and mitigation in relation to an eruption of Katla, and (3) investigate the public and the representative of the local authorities and emergency manager's knowledge of the official evacuation plan. In 2004, we conducted in-depth, face-to-face interviews with local residents using a snowball sample technique. All participants were permanent residents of the two communities, between the ages of 25–95 and most had lived in the area their entire lives. Regardless of the residents' knowledge about past volcanic activity of Katla and the associated future risk, many residents were doubtful about the imminent eruption forecast by scientists and they believed that the volcano is no longer active. In both communities, different social, cultural and economic factors played a central role in how people perceived natural hazards and how they dealt with the fact that their lives and livelihoods could be at risk. The participants had good knowledge about the existing evacuation plan and had participated in evacuation exercises. However, they had not made personal mitigation or preparedness plans in the event of a future eruption. In contrast to the residents of Vík, the inhabitants in Álftaver are concerned about the evacuation process and found it very confusing; they neither found the emergency plan nor the proposed methods for risk communication relevant for their farming community. The perception of the inhabitants, especially in Álftaver, does not correspond to those tasked with the responsibility of developing the emergency and evacuation plans. In order to ensure the safety of all concerned, better cooperation, mutual understanding and adequate communication between the scientific community, governmental and local authorities and the inhabitants is necessary.