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Young sailors stand on the shoulder of a Master and Commander: Charles Bartlett Hyde

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The Popocatépetl volcano stirring in Mexico

InternationalThe Popocatépetl volcano stirring in Mexico

Photo: View from Puebla, state of Puebla, Mexico, of the Popocatépetl volcano releasing ash and smoke

by Kristen Ku

MEXICO CITY, Thurs. May 25, 2023

As Popocatépetl, Mexico’s most active volcano, rumbles with increasing activity, our attention here in Belize is not only on our Mexican neighbors but also on what this could mean for us. Just beyond our northern border, millions of people have been alerted to prepare for possible evacuations following ash emissions from the volcano.

Popocatépetl, situated about 45 miles southeast of Mexico City, straddles the states of Morelos, Puebla, and Mexico, a region home to roughly 25 million people. Since the increased volcanic activity, the National Civil Protection Coordination (CNPC) raised the volcanic threat level to “yellow phase 3” and warned of increased activity and the fast-moving spread of ashes.

Popocatépetl’s recent turbulence disrupts not only local communities but also has far-reaching impacts on areas such as aviation, with flights being delayed in Mexico City. The Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City closed down entirely on Saturday, May 20, due to reported excess volcanic ash in the air. Additionally, in-person classes in over 52 municipalities within three different states are being held remotely.

Despite our distance from the active region, we in Belize should pay close attention to these developments. While the immediate dangers such as the pyroclastic flows, ash fall, and potential evacuations are primarily Mexico’s concerns, Belize could face secondary effects, the most significant of which would be in the form of disrupted air travel.

Belize depends heavily on tourism, with numerous flights connecting us with Mexico City and other parts of Mexico. Prolonged flight disruptions could affect tourism, which would pose challenges for our economy. Additionally, volcanic ash dispersal, depending on the wind direction, could potentially affect the air quality in Belize, particularly in our western regions. While this is unlikely given the distance and prevailing wind patterns, it is a scenario that health and environmental authorities should monitor.

Lastly, a large-scale eruption could lead to a regional humanitarian crisis, with displaced Mexican residents possibly seeking refuge in neighboring countries, including Belize. While it’s our moral obligation to help, this could put a strain on our resources and so would require careful planning.

Mexico City’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum shared on her Twitter similar sentiments on Sunday, May 21, stating, “In the case of Mexico City, the risk is ash fall. We are prepared for that scenario and we know what to do. Let’s stay alert.”

The last eruption of Popocatépetl was in 1994, and since then the volcano’s rumblings have become a part of daily life for many surrounding Mexicans. With this recent escalation in activity, it’s crucial for Belize to stay informed and prepared, keeping a watchful eye on the developments surrounding Popocatépetl. For now, our thoughts are with our Mexican friends, hoping for the volcano to return to its quieter state.

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To – David

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