Daily Briefs

Photo : Reuters/SusanVera

NIAS Europe Daily Brief #24, 29 October 2021, Friday

Spain: One month after the La Palma volcanic eruption

EU counsels Israel to stop expansion; Polish parliament to discuss banning pride parades; Spain records highest inflation rate in 29 years; Report claims Europe requires three generations to achieve gender parity;

By Joeana Cera Matthews

Spain: One month since La Palma's volcanic eruption

A volcano located on La Palma – the fifth-largest island in Spain's Canary Islands – has been active for over a month now. Canary Islands is home to the Teneguia volcano in the Cumbre Vieja national park. The last time a volcano erupted was in 1971; it was also the last time Spain witnessed a surface eruption. Considering recent developments, the protracted eruption sees no end.

Events across the past month 
On 19 September, after a week of seismic activity, the volcano erupted. Harbouring one of the most active volcanoes in the archipelago, more than 22,000 tremors of 3.8-magnitude on the Richter scale were initially measured. From the beginning, seismologists maintained that the duration of the eruption would be unpredictable since previous records read such eruptions lasting from weeks to months. On 21 September, nearly 200 people fled their homes as the erupting volcano developed a new fissure. Following this fissure, four earthquakes hit the island. On 28 September, after much speculation on whether or not the lava would reach the Atlantic Ocean, the volcanic lava entered the waters. This was followed by the Spanish government declaring La Palma as a 'disaster zone'. On 17 October, almost a month since the eruption began, 42 seismic movements were recorded with the largest one scaling a magnitude of 4.3. 

Government Response
Prior to the eruption, the government instructed people to prepare emergency kits in case of an evacuation. Soon after the eruption, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, delaying his trip to the UN summit, visited the site and promised state support to the region. The increased devastation of homes was also a matter of concern. The Islands' regional government promised two housing development purchases to provide for the homeless. Spanish banks were also providing emergency shelters. The 'disaster zone' declaration facilitated the effort to provide the financial assistance necessary for their recovery. Defence Minister Margarita Robles also visited the region and assured the support of the Spanish Navy in clearing out the volcanic ash that covered large parts of the region. On 17 October, President Angel Victor Torres, commented on the prolonged eruption: "There are no signs that an end of the eruption is imminent even though this is the greatest desire of everyone."

Local Impact: Evacuations galore and affected livelihood
Government spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez reported 7,000 of La Palma's 83,000 residents to have been evacuated and about 2,000 buildings to have suffered damages. The lava has submerged almost 800 hectares of land. On 27 September, Spanish property portal Idealista estimated the damages accounting to EUR 178 million. Experts claim that there lies a possibility of continuing damage. No fatalities have been reported. 

La Palma produces a quarter of the Canary Islands' famous bananas. Banana as a crop is a crucial economic-builder since it provides livelihood to the region's farmers. On 23 September, lava and smoke shot out of the volcano threatening the banana plantations. Several farms were affected, negatively impacting the annual banana production. One of the farmers was quoted as saying: "The volcano may not kill us directly, but it's going to make a lot of us go bankrupt." Another farmer, concerned about the prolonged eruption, said: "We don't know when it's going to stop, that's the problem. This is nature and we have to deal with it, it's bigger than us."

Impact on climate and health
On 21 September, just two days post-eruption, the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (INVOLCAN) announced that the volcano had emitted 7,997 to 10,665 tonnes of sulphur dioxide (SO2) per day into the atmosphere. This raised concerns as SO2 runs the risk of reacting with oxygen and moisture in the atmosphere to create vog (volcanic smog) as well as acid rain. The citizens were warned to avoid the ingestion of the toxic ash looming in the sky.

The biggest threat, however, was the lava reaching the Atlantic Ocean. This would trigger the chemical reaction that resulted in the creation of 'laze' – a combination of lava and haze formed through hot lava boiling in the colder seawater. According to science journalist and volcanologist Dr Robin George Andrews: "It creates a steam of hydrochloric acid, water vapour and bits of ash." Laze causes irritation of the eye, lung, and skin. Explosions were also to be expected given the "pressure-cooker-situation" created by the lava in the sea. To reduce the risk of humans being affected by the same, marine authorities closed off around two nautical miles at sea where the lava was heading, terming it an 'exclusion zone'.

Moments of Awe
A 'miracle house' had become popular across the media as it remained the sole survivor of the lava. However, on 28 September, it finally got consumed by the lava. Another moment that caught the attention of the world was when two dogs stranded in empty water tanks were rescued via a mysterious gang that termed themselves the 'A-team'. This gang had overtaken the drone operation initiated to save the animals.

"Spanish officials fear volcanic eruption on La Palma," Deutsche Welle, 16 September 2021.  

"Canary Islands volcano: Hundreds more evacuated as La Palma lava nears sea," BBC, 21 September 2021. 

Sam Jones, "More people in path of lava from La Palma volcano forced to flee," The Guardian, 21 September 2021. 

Nacho Doce and Marco Trujillo, "Lava, smoke and ash cover La Palma as volcano threatens banana crop," Reuters, 23 September 2021. 

Jon Nazca and Nacho Doce, "La Palma volcano spurts again as lava nears the sea," Reuters, 28 September 2021. 

"'Miracle house' engulfed as lava reaches sea off La Palma," The Guardian, 29 September 2021. 

Silvio Castellanos and Juan Medina, "Lava blocks the size of buildings falling from La Palma volcano," Reuters, 10 October 2021. 

"One month on, still 'no signs' that La Palma volcanic eruption will end soon," France24, 17 October 2021. 

"Canary Islands: Volcano eruption on La Palma destroys homes, no injuries," Deutsche Welle, 19 October 2021. 

"Drone rescue plan for dogs trapped by La Palma volcano," The Guardian, 20 October 2021. 

Guillermo Martinez, "La Palma evacuees see no end to ordeal after month of volcanic eruption," Reuters, 20 October 2021. 

Sam Jones, "Dogs trapped by La Palma eruption 'saved by mysterious gang'," The Guardian, 21 October 2021. 

"Canary Islands volcano: New vent opens, more people flee," Deutsche Welle, 21 October 2021.

By Vaishnavi Iyer and Padmashree Anandhan

Warsaw refuses to pay the ECJ's daily fine of EUR one million
On 27 October, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) announced an additional fine of EUR one million on Poland. This comes in addition to the existing EUR 500,000 fine, which was imposed in relation to the Turow coal mine. Poland still has seven more cases remaining to be settled by the ECJ. The opposition criticized the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) party, stating that it was not only ruining the independence of the judiciary but doing so with Polish money. The justice minister strongly denied the possibility of the fine being paid; in fact, he advised the payment not to be made. He stated: "(the) Polish state cannot bow to lawlessness… (Poland) cannot and should not pay a single zloty." Eurosceptic Poles recommended stopping payments to the EU, but this might backfire on Poland given the fact that Poland is one of the largest recipients of the EU funds. ("Poland vows not to pay any EU court fines," Deutsche Welle, 28 October 2021)

Economy: Highest inflation rate in 29 years recorded
According to the National Statistics Institute (INE), Spain has hit an inflation rate of 5.8 percent, which is its highest in 29 years. This has resulted in a surge in energy costs, prices of vehicle fuels, electricity, lubricants, and holiday packages. The government, however, assures that the price hike is only temporary while economists believe it could have an effect on the wages and root off the corporate competency. According to Funcas, a think tank, the economic growth rate of Spain is expected to fall to 5.1 from 6.3 percent. (Inti Landauro and Belén Carreño, "Energy costs push Spain's inflation to 29-year high, threatening recovery," Reuters, 28 October 2021)

France: French vessels granted licensing by the UK and European Commission
The officials of France, the UK, and the European Commission met and granted licenses to 162 French vessels to fish in the territorial waters of Jersey. The operation of French boats in the UK and Jersey coastal waters has been a source of dispute for quite a while. Paris had responded to the UK's refusal to grant licenses by imposing checks on cross-Channel trade and pressurizing the UK's energy supply in an effort to persuade them into granting permits. According to the statement, Jersey is expected to continue working "closely" with the French, the UK and the EU Commission so as to "ensure that vessels which are entitled to a permanent license can receive one and can continue fishing in Jersey's territorial waters under their historic track record." ("Jersey offers 162 fishing licences after French ultimatum," BBC, 28 October 2021; Daniel Boffey and Dan Sabbagh, "UK summons French ambassador as fishing rights row escalates," The Guardian, 28 October 2021)

Report highlights dismal gender equality rate in Europe
The Gender Equality Index published by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) reported the EU to have scored 68 points out of a total 100 in 2021. The improvement in gender equality has only increased by 0.6 points over the last year. The report acknowledges the dismal growth rate stating: "it will take nearly three generations to achieve gender parity at the current pace." The slow pace in time and health has been attributed to the pandemic, which triggered economic losses for women as well as decreased life expectancy in men. An overrepresentation of women in healthcare left more women vulnerable to infections while women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. During the lockdown, women expected to take care of childcare and share the unequal burden of unpaid work suffered immensely. Countries leading in the Gender Index scale were Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, scoring 83.9, 77.8, and 75.9, respectively. Germany scored above average with 68.6 points while Greece was the last among the EU states with 52.5 points. Individually, Luxembourg, Italy, and Malta made the largest gains in equality, while Slovenia regressed in 2021 along with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. ("EU is 'three generations' away from gender equality — report," Deutsche Welle, 28 October 2021) 

Poland: Parliament to discuss banning pride parades
Protests erupted over the new bill on banning pride parades, with more than 300 people gathering on the streets. The bill, originating from an outside anti-abortion rights pressure group called 'Life and Family Foundation', seeks to modify the rights of free assembly which could place Poland in further conflict with the EU. The amended right to assembly bill would entail denial of public gatherings that "question marriage as a relationship between a woman and a man" or "propagate the extension of marriage to persons of the same sex." The proposed ban is said to be a result of pride parades promoting a "sexual orientation other than heterosexual." In a speech deemed "most disgusting" by the opposing legislators from the left, right, and centre, a member from the pressure group, Krzysztof Kasprzak argued the LGBT movement to be a form of totalitarian and even equated it to Nazism. Moreover, he accused the movement of "overthrowing" the "natural order" and introducing "terror." The opposition labelled the speech to be inhumane, homophobic and in violation of the right to assemble. Given the origins, it remains unclear whether the bill is being approved or not. ("Poland: Parliament debates bill banning LGBTQ pride parades," Deutsche Welle, 28 October 2021)

European Commission urges developed nations to close funding target gaps
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged wealthy countries of the UN COP26 summit to bridge the shortfall in climate finance. The USD 100 billion contributions was set to be fulfilled by 2020; however, the pledge would not materialize till 2023. According to the assessment by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, developing countries would access funds to adapt to global heating both in public and private funds. The EU contributes USD 25 billion every year, with the US aiming to contribute USD 11.4 billion by 2024. Von der Leyen stated: "If you look at the global stage, Europe is the frontrunner without any question,"; nonetheless, she cautioned countries to continue working internally owing to the climate risks the world faces. Having committed to net zero emissions by 2050, von der Leyen is expected to join US President Joe Biden at the COP26 in launching an initiative to reduce methane emissions. (Jennifer Rankin," Wealthy nations urged to meet $100bn climate finance goal," BBC, 28 October 2021)

EU countries advice Israel to stop settlement expansion 
12 European countries urged Israel to reverse its settlement expansion plan. It expects to create 3000 settlements in the disputed West Bank region. The EU's joint statement read: "We call on both parties to build on steps taken in recent months to improve cooperation and reduce tensions." The countries participating were - Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden. ("European states urge Israel to stop settlement expansion," Reuters, 28 October 2021)

Other Daily Briefs