Cotopaxi is a volcano in Ecuador culminating at 5,897 meters above sea level, located south of Quito, the country’s capital. It is the highest active volcano in this country. It represents a perfect cone whose main crater measures approximately 550 to 800 meters in diameter. Its most important eruption dates from 1877, when it destroyed several towns and valleys.
The Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano with an almost perfect cone, dominating the surrounding terrain by 3,000 meters. It is in fact made up of two nested volcanic devices. The basal part, the oldest, is a caldera that collapsed more than 5,000 years ago and the remains of which are still visible to the north and south-west in the form of protruding reliefs. This old part of the volcano is called Picacho. The most recent part, located above, forms the terminal cone named Incaloma. Covering an area of 280 km2 with a length of 22 kilometers and a width of 20 kilometers, its volume is 272 km3.
The volcano is covered with ice and eternal snow from an altitude of 4,900 meters, over a total area estimated at 27 km2.
The ice and eternal snow were the source of destructive lahars during some of the Cotopaxi eruptions.
An environmental documentary filmed by Morad Aït-Habbouche presents the whole story of the Cotopaxi Volcano and why it puts the population of Quito at risk.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and its population are facing several major issues, known by the scientists, by the public authorities, but it seems that nobody really does something to prevent a major disaster to happen that would lead to casualties and economic destruction at high scale.
In the environmental documentary, we see that in Quito, the population lives at the foot of the biggest explosive volcano of the country, which sometimes implies massive earthquakes up to 8 on the Ritcher scale, a massive risk of pyroclastic flows, a rain of pumice stones and a fall of massive boulders that could destroy the whole valley that leads to Quito (destroying the biggest hospital, the city water supply, the main emergency road), and a major risk of lahars due to the melting of the snow and glaciers that could lead to a very destructive flood of mud and wood that could destroy everything on its path.
We also learn in this environmental documentary that some of the major facilities of Quito are at stake in a scenario of natural catastrophe due to major earthquakes, eruption and lahars. The major hospital of the city is on the path of lahars, the main road to flee the city would be destroyed, and some terrible damage would be caused to houses. This last point leads to the major problem, the issue on the population, as it seems that in the past 30-40 years, the public authorities let happen an uncontrolled development of housing in the area, with people who built their houses on the mountain side. All these houses could be destroyed by an earthquake or a pyroclastic flow, a lahar, or even worse, the whole mountain and hills could collapse in terrible landslides.
We also discover that this uncontrolled development of the housing sector led to the creation of shantytowns, some very poor areas in which there is no salubrity at all, in which the population is constantly flooded, in which the women are left on their own to raise their families, with often an important number of children.
A NGO is there to help these people, but it seems that even if some international investors try to help the population in these poor areas, what they do is not enough.
A sustainable development foresees a balance between economic, social and environment, and the Cotopaxi’s region demonstrates that a priority was first given to an unmastered economic development that today leads to terrible social issues, and will one day lead to a social and economic drama due to an environmental disaster which is not enough taken into account.
Knowing that volcanoes are major contributors to the level of CO2 and sulfure dioxyde in the atmosphere, the international community of environment should focus on the issues of volcanoes, earthquakes and lahars, and their impacts in terms of economy, social and environmental development for the population. They should encourage the local, regional and national authorities of these places to re-think their development and propose alternatives to the concerned population, starting with the single women with children.
The international community of environment and the United Nations should also stand beside the population of these areas to help them build a better future. No people should be left behind in a sustainable development.
This environmental documentary on the Cotopaxi Volcano is below (in French).