Integrated risk management for volcanic hazards: “Galeras process” resettlement strategy

Foto: Camilo Martínez / Wikipedia Commons

Foto: © Camilo Martínez / Wikipedia Commons

Galeras Volcano is located in the department of Nariño, Colombia, “at a distance approximately 9 km in a straight line from the department capital, San Juan de Pasto, at an altitude of 4,276 meters above sea level,” according to the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMINAS, 2006). The volcano’s reactivation will predictably have a high impact on the social units located in the surrounding area, making it necessary to resettle the people living in the High Volcanic Hazard Area (ZAVA, by its Spanish acronym). This article explains the implementation of the “Galeras process,” a pilot program in Colombia designed around prevention. It is also a coordinated, inter-institutional exercised carried out by the team that implements the program, which understands that resettlement is part of integrated risk management, related to local development and focused on several dimensions: legal, social, cultural, economic/ production and environmental.

History of Galeras Volcano

Documentation of the activity of Galeras Volcano only began with the Spanish conquest. However, according to geological information from INGEOMINAS (2006, 1), “six important eruption events have been identified, in 4500, 4000, 2900, 2300 and 1100 BC, along with an eruption in 1866 AD. During the past 500 years, most of the eruptions have been classified as vulcanian, with low eruption columns ( < 10 km), which have produced gas and ash emissions, small lava flows and explosive eruptions with the generation of pyroclastic flows (hot clouds of solid and gaseous material), the deposits of which reached distances of up to 9.5 km from the crater.”

The first documented eruptive phase of Galeras Volcano was quite long, lasting from 1535 until August 1936, when activity ended. “Following a period of relative repose,” a second phase then occurred from June 1988 to June 1993, “which was associated with a phase of clearing and opening of the volcanic conduits, characterized by increased seismicity and signs of surface activity (INGEOMINAS, 2006, 2).

Photographs published in the book by Martínez Sierra (2002, 79 and 90) show an eruption in 1936 in which a pyroclastic flow can be seen moving northward.

Eleven years later, a third phase of activity began, marked by more frequent eruptive events, beginning on November 21, 2004 throughout April 24, 2009.

Legal and institutional framework

With the reactivation of Galeras Volcano, the national government issued Decree No. 4106 on November 15, 2005 declaring that “the municipalities of La Florida and Nariño and the towns of Mapachico and Genoy in the municipality of Pasto were a disaster area.” The disaster declaration enabled the use of certain legal tools: Decree No. 4046 of November 10, 2005, which appointed the Intersectoral Commission; CONPES Official Document No. 3501 of December 3, 2007 on policy guidelines for integrated risk management; and Decree No. 3905 of October 7, 2008 on the implementation of a resettlement plan.

The process is based on guidelines issued at the central government level by the Colombian President’s Office through the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, jointly with the Bureau of Risk Management for Disaster Prevention and Relief (DGRPAD, previously DPAD). At the regional level, responsibility for the process was given to the Nariño governor’s office, through the Regional Council for Disaster Prevention and Response (CREAPAD), which is in charge of the development and adoption of the Specific Action Plan (PAE), adopted in April 2009. At the local level, direct responsibility both for relations with the community and for making decisions related to resettlement lie with the municipal governments of Pasto, Nariño and La Florida, each of which has its own Local Disaster Prevention and Response Committee (CLOPAD). Additionally, all the institutions that are part of the National System for Disaster Prevention and Response (SNPAD) also have responsibilities in this process.

Managing the Galeras process

Given the complexity of the process, it was necessary to create an agency located in the city of Pasto for the purpose of linking the ZAVA with all the bodies (national, regional and local) involved in the intervention. The agency provides guidance and assistance to these institutions so that they are able to take on the responsibilities they have been assigned. The Galeras process is also in charge of supporting the community involved regarding its organization, participation and decision-making. Thus, the management team of the Galeras process was put in place to undertake the work of coordinating and facilitating linkages. The office is part of DGRPAD, through an agreement with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The goals of the team in charge of managing the Galeras process are to:

  1. Manage and implement actions around interinstitutional and community coordination in order to guarantee integrated risk management related to Galeras Volcano.
  2. Consolidate baseline technical studies.
  3. Coordinate, develop and implement the Social Management Resettlement Plan.

Internally, the management team is organized into five areas: land management, economics and production, land and environmental use planning, social and cultural planning, and the geographic information system (GIS).

Population resettlement: progress report, difficulties and challenges

When we talk about “resettlement,” we make a distinction with the concept of “relocation.” This is because the move is not just a physical activity; it also involves the present and future of human beings who have an overarching right to life. The Galeras process is attempting to mitigate the socioeconomic impact on the social units in the ZAVA from the disaster declaration; provide for the transfer of social units; assist in reestablishing living conditions for the population; facilitate access to and allocation of subsidies and other resources; and foster the involvement of the social units in designing productive projects.

It should be stressed that resettlement of urban and rural families located in the ZAVA is unavoidable to protect their lives and assets, and to facilitate their access to legal, safe housing options (Office of the President of Colombia, Ministry of the Interior and of Justice, Decree 3905 of 2008). There are approximately 8,235 inhabitants, 1,894 households and 5,670 properties in the entire High Volcanic Hazard Area (ZAVA), in the municipalities of San Juan de Pasto (5,663 inhabitants, 1,202 households, 2,067 properties), La Florida (2,118 inhabitants, 570 households, 1,090 properties), and Nariño (454 inhabitants, 122 households, 446 properties). These figures come from the population census in the ZAVA carried out by the Colombian Statistics Bureau (DANE) in 2005.

In addition to conducting technical studies and gathering and organizing information, the transition stage has been used to create the Technical Committee on Lands and the Resettlement Steering Committee, which puts mechanisms in place for addressing challenges and difficulties. In the few months since the intervention began, several advances have been made in different areas, particularly on the issues of land use planning and environmental management. The municipalities and other official bodies have linked up to make adjustments to the Pasto Land Use Plan, and the Nariño and La Florida Land Use Systems. Both land use plan and the systems are beginning to include riskrelated issues; however, it will still take some time for them to be approved.

With regards to resettlement sites, different locations and proposed housing designs have been identified. There are cases in which the social units in the ZAVA have already lived in an urban area and want to move to a similar type of location. On the other hand, there are inhabitants who have always lived in rural areas but who want to live in an urban area, and finally, some people from rural areas want to resettle in a rural area where their future home can be similar to the one they are leaving behind in the ZAVA.

For this reason, the Galeras process management team is evaluating different options and seeking proposals for housing stock. For example, low-cost single and two-family housing projects are being developed in the city of Pasto. In addition, land is being sought in rural areas where houses can be built. Interestingly, some social units, on their own, are seeking houses in other cities in the country. During this process, the program is providing comprehensive services to the social units through its different work areas.

Finally, it is important to note that risk management in the Galeras process is a laboratory for protecting lives. Because of its experimental nature —this program is unique in Colombia— the institutions involved run into legal, physical, social, cultural and empowermentrelated issues on a daily basis. However, they are clear that when difficulties do appear, they must be proactive and take action aimed at finding prompt solutions.

For further information, please contact: Esperanza Josefina Agreda Montenegro, Coordinator, Area of Land Management, Galeras Process Management (GPG)


  • DANE (2005). Registro de población, vivienda, unidades económicas y/o agropecuarias ZAVA. Santafé de Bogotá D.C.: DANE.
  • INGEOMINAS (2008). Reportes de actividad. Taken on March 19, 2009 from the following website: actividad
  • INGEOMINAS (2006). Actividad histórica Galeras. Taken on March 18, 2009 from the following website: http//:http:// historica_galeras.pdf
  • Martínez Sierra (2002), L.A. Historia de la actividad del volcán Galeras y percepción de los fenómenos telúricovolcánicos en el contexto cultural de Pasto. Santafé de Bogotá: El Malpensante.
  • President’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Ministry of the Interior and Justice. Decree No. 4106 of 2005. Santafé de Bogotá D.C.: Ministry of the Interior.
  • President’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Ministry of the Interior and Justice. Decree No 3905 of 2008. Santafé de Bogotá D.C.: Ministry of the Interior.