Learning from Montserrat: Science, Public Information and Policy

4 May 2000
Public event

Chair:
David Taylor, formerly Governor of Montserrat.
Speakers:
Edward Clay - ODI.
Peter Kokelaar

Description

This ODI discussion seminar was held on Thursday 4 May following the formal release on 27 April 2000 of the final report on the Evaluation of HMG’s Response to the Montserrat Volcanic Emergency. This study had been commissioned by DFID in response to the recommendation of the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development and was undertaken by an ODI team: Dr Edward Clay, team leader and Senior Research Associate, ODI; Dr Christine Barrow, social development and UWI Barbados; Charlotte Benson, economics and Senior Research Associate, ODI; Jim Dempster, civil engineering; Dr Peter Kokelaar, Reader in Volcanology, University of Liverpool; Dr Nita Pillai, food & & nutrition, formerly ODI and now Consumers International; and Dr John Seaman, health and SCF(UK).

main findings and key recommendations of the study. Peter Kokelaar answered questions on scientific issues raised by the still continuing eruption and the film, Montserrat’s andesitic volcano: a video investigation, shown before the seminar. The meeting brought together volcanologists, social scientists and others who have been professionally involved with Montserrat since the eruption started in July 1995, as well as officials from concerned British government departments and a representative of the Government of Montserrat. The wide ranging discussion focused especially on the challenge of integrating scientific advice into policy and the special issues of governance posed by Montserrat’s continuing status as a British Overseas Territory.

Commenting the next day in The Guardian Newspaper, Polly Pattullo, author of Fire from the mountain: the tragedy of Montserrat, highlighted a number of findings from the study:

  • The overall conclusion - ‘An achievement for Montserratians and a qualified success for HMG.’
  • One exceptional quality of the problems facing Montserrat was uncertainty. What would the volcano do next? An effect of such uncertainty, as this even handed evaluation points out,’ allowed different strategies to be promoted by key stakeholders’.
  • While Overseas Territories like Montserrat have a ‘first call’ on DFID’s development programme, there is neither a budgetary ceiling nor agreed standards for the provision of housing, education and so on, and that in Montserrat this led to considerable friction between the two governments.
  • There are institutional weaknesses of colonial structures. In a bizarre tripartite arrangement, neither the governor ( the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), DFID nor the Government of Montserrat had ‘clear authority for many of the decisions which had to be taken’. the effect was ‘delays, omissions and shortcomings’, especially in the early days. What was required was not a reactive, learn-as-you-go approach but a more ambitious task force strategy.

Follow-up information on the study, the continuing eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano and Montserrat:

The full reference for the final report of the study is Clay, E. and others. 1999. ‘An evaluation of HMG’s response to the Montserrat Volcanic Emergency,’ DFID Evaluation Report EV635, 2 volumes. London: DFID, December 1999.