Severe volcanic activity, which began in July 1995, has put a damper on this small, open economy. A catastrophic eruption in June 1997 closed the airport and seaports, causing further economic and social dislocation. Two-thirds of the 12,000 inhabitants fled the island. Some began to return in 1998 but lack of housing limited the number. The agriculture sector continued to be affected by the lack of suitable land for farming and the destruction of crops.
The island of Montserrat is tucked into the northern corner of the Leeward Islands, in the eastern Caribbean. It is located 43 km (27 miles) southwest of Antigua and 70 km (40 miles) northwest of Guadeloupe. Montserrat covers an area of 102 km2 (39 mi2).
Montserrat is an internally governed overseas territory of the United Kingdom, which retains responsibility for the territory’s external relations, defense, internal security, public services, and offshore finance. The Montserrat Constitution Order of 1989 conferred a new Constitution on Montserrat. In particular it provides for a Governor appointed by Her Majesty, an Executive Council and a Legislative Council. Provision was also made regarding the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.
General elections are held every five years, as constitutionally mandated. The last general elections were held on 11 September 2014. The People’s Democratic Movement won 7 out of 9 seats in the Legislative Council and formed a Government. Montserrat is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
The island is evidenly of volcanic origin, and a soufriere exists in the high lands to the south. The soil varies from a light sandy loam to a stiff clay, and is generally of considerable depth. The mean annual temperature is 78°. The annual rainfall is about 56 inches in the lowlands and 78 to 80 inches in the hilly parts of the interior. The heat is seldom oppressive, as it is tempered by the sea-breeze. The climate is one of the healthiest in the West Indies. English and Irish colonists from St. Kitts first settled on Montserrat in 1632; the first African slaves arrived three decades later. The British and French fought for possession of the island for most of the 18th century, but it finally was confirmed as a British possession in 1783. The island's sugar plantation economy was converted to small farm landholdings in the mid-19th century.
Montserrat is a small volcanic island with two main areas of highland reaching altitudes greater than 740 m. Much of the land surface is very rugged, with deep gorges, and the coastline is characterised by truncated spurs and hanging valleys. Rainfall is seasonal, and varies with altitude. On lands with rainfall of more than 1,750 mm per year, lower montane and montane rain forest, palm break and elfin woodland represent the climax vegetation. At lower altitudes the vegetation consists of a mosaic of cactus and dry scrub woodland, littoral vegetation, semi-evergreen forest and small areas of mangrove. Nearly all Montserrat’s original forest cover has been cleared for agriculture or timber exploitation.
Much of this island was devastated and two-thirds of the population fled abroad because of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano that began on 18 July 1995. An estimated 8,000 refugees left the island following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995; some have returned, with a population of 5,267 (July 2016 est.)
Montserrat is vulnerable to a number of natural hazards. While the major threat is volcanic activity, the territory is also subject to the winds and storm surges associated with hurricanes and to earthquakes. There also are environmental health issues related to falling ash; these also are monitored.
Montserrat has endured volcanic activity since 1995. The highest point was Soufriere Hills volcano pre-eruption height was 915 m; current lava dome is subject to periodic build up and collapse; estimated dome height was 1050 m in 2015.
The island is composed almost exclusively of volcanic rock and is mostly mountainous with a small coastal plain. Montserrat’s Soufrie`re Hills Volcano began erupting in 1995, resulting in the destruction of the capital, Plymouth, and the evacuation of the southern and central parts of the island. Thousands moved to nearby Antigua, other parts of the Caribbean, or further afield. There was a major eruption in February 2010. A report on volcanic activity between 28 February and 31 October 2010 indicated that activity had been low and that ‘‘there was no evidence of lava extrusion during this time’’.
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