Health System Preparedness for Hazards Associated With Mount Cameroon Eruptions: A Case Study of Bakingili Village

November 2010 (VOL. 28, NO. 3)

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Mount Cameroon, the only active volcano along the Cameroon Volcanic Line (CVL) and most active in equatorial West Africa, erupted seven times in the last century. The 1999 eruption prompted evacuation of over 600 inhabitants of Bakingili village on the south western slopes – the first in the history of this volcano. Besides destruction from flowing lava, associated health hazards resulted from fine ash and poisonous gases that accompanied explosions. This eruption revealed a lack of preparedness on the part of the communities and the Cameroonian administration to such phenomena, as a National Scientific Committee was only created following challenges from local scientists who began monitoring of the event only out of scientific curiosity. Consequently, the evacuation camp was not prepared for any emergency relief operations and there still remains a lot of mistrust between the community, local scientists and emergency managers. This study attempts to rebuild dialogue, respect and trust between these parties towards facilitating volcanic hazard education and planning for Mount Cameroon, especially, the health system preparedness. To achieve this, we used documentary evidence; focus group discussions; and data triangulation. Results show the need to adopt a combined ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approach by integrating community members in decision making bodies; integrating and promoting local traditional viewpoints/hazard perceptions; involving women, youth, church leaders and major entrepreneurs in disaster relief committees; and educating and training health workers, the political elite and government officials on how to take appropriate decisions to protect the populations in times of crisis.