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Oldonyo Lengai volcanic hazards February 4, 2010

Posted by tanzaniageologists in Uncategorized.
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A Tragic Accident in Oldonyo Lengai, 2007

Volcanic Hazards

In late August 2007 a young Pambao, a young Maasai warrior  from the community of Ngare Sero incurred severe burns on both legs from toe to thigh; his right hand was also severely burned. This happened when he fell into an active lava flow in the summit crater of Oldoinyo Lengai. Due to its unique chemical composition, these lavas are relatively ‘cool’ (around 500 degrees Celsius), or Pambao would not be alive today. Following the accident, he was evacuated from the crater, carried in an improvised stretcher down a steep, rugged almost six thousand foot slope, and then taken by road to the Mount Meru hospital in Arusha. He remained in hospital for some time, with financial support from Volcano Expeditions International, the tour company that had hired him as porter for the climb which went so disastrously wrong.

When the money that had been provided to give him medical treatment and rehabilitation was exhausted, Pambao was brought home to his family in an isolated village north of Oldoinyo Lengai. On a visit to the area in January 2008 University of Rochester geologist Cindy Ebinger, who has been involved in a joint project with Tanzanian scientists monitoring the volcano’s ongoing activity, was able to visit Pambao and gave this report:

“Pambao has been sent back from the hospital in Arusha, ostensibly because there was little more that could be done without a major investment.  He was being cared for by his elderly grandparents in a small boma north of Engare Sero.  He was bedridden, and clearly in pain.  The lack of physical therapy has led to muscle wasting in his upper torso.   The only treatment for persistent sores was local herbal remedies”.

With the aid of a local medical charity, Flying Medical Services of Arusha Tanzania, Pambao was eventually airlifted to  Arusha and admitted to the excellent Selian Lutheran Hospital on 30th April 2008. The condition of his legs and his right hand was evaluated and it was decided that for him to survive, amputation of both legs above the knee was the only option. The approval of senior family members was obtained and the operation took place in May 2008. Celia Nyamweru was able to visit Pambao in early June 2008 and found him on the road to recovery, both physical and mental; he had previously been in a state of depression and finding it hard to cope with the implications of this disaster. His condition continued to improve through 2008 and he was able to return to his village and the care of his family; we understand that he has also been able to marry.

Our next project was to have artificial legs fitted, for him to regain some degree of mobility. Through the Jaipur Foot Project in Nairobi, a medical charity that provides legs to people in need, and with the continued support of Flying Medical Services, we have been able to get this done at minimum cost.

The most recent report from Flying Medical Services (25 May 2009) has this encouraging story to tell:

“Pambau is walking!  In fact he’s walking so much that we have to slow him down so he doesn’t get any sores on his leg stumps before developing some tougher calloused skin there! On the first night that he had his legs in Nairobi, he wanted to sleep with them.  Very touching.  He is so proud of them.
The physiotherapist is working with him.  Pambau has lots of motivation. We’ll keep him here at Olkokola probably for another couple of weeks till he is comfortable.  He has spoken on the radio call with his family at Ngare Sero.  He is in great spirits”.

THREE PHOTOGRAPHS BELOW SHOW PAMBAU AND HIS NEW LEGS!

We are so delighted with this outcome, but there are still expenses to be covered. To date, the total cost of his treatment, hospital food and transport is nearly 7 million Tanzanian shillings, and the generous donations we have had from a number of climbers and scientists total slightly over 4 million shillings. The amount still owing, mostly to the Selian Lutheran Hospital, is 2.436 million Tanzanian shillings, which is US $1817 at May 2009 exchange rates. The expenses relating to his travel to Nairobi for the fitting of his artificial legs will have to be added to this, so we need to raise at least $2000.

WE ARE THEREFORE APPEALING AGAIN TO ALL WHO HAVE ENJOYED CLIMBING OLDOINYO LENGAI OVER THE YEARS, OR WHO HAVE AN INTEREST IN THE GEOLOGY AND LANDSCAPE OF THIS UNIQUE AREA, TO HELP COVER THESE EXPENSES, SO THAT THE ORGANIZATIONS WHO HAVE HELPED SO GENEROUSLY CAN CONTINUE THEIR VALUABLE WORK.

Pambao paid a heavy price for the interest of scientists and tourists in visiting this unique volcano. Were it not for this ongoing interest, Pambao would not have been in the summit crater. The area around Oldoinyo Lengai is an isolated part of a third world country in which employment and income generating opportunities are extremely limited. Acting as guides and porters for visitors to Oldoinyo Lengai is one of the few sources of income available to young men like Pambao, who have at most a few years of elementary school education. These strong young men have no concept of the risks associated with active volcanoes, and have come to believe that it must be safe, since so many people come to climb it.

As responsible scholars, we should be concerned not only with our scientific activities and the data we collect, but also with the well-being of the local communities around our research sites. Even though we were not part of the expedition on which Pambao was injured, we believe that our responsibility to him and his community requires that we take an active part in helping him to rebuild his life, as best he can. We can take checks in either US dollars or British pounds, made payable to either of us: Celia Nyamweru or Cindy Ebinger. We will acknowledge every donation and we continue to to report on how the funds are being used.

By Cindy, and Celia Nyamweru

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