Preprint Review Version 1 This version is not peer-reviewed

Haze, Hunger, Hesitation: Disaster Aid after the 1783 Lakagígar Eruption

Version 1 : Received: 7 January 2020 / Approved: 9 January 2020 / Online: 9 January 2020 (05:14:38 CET)

How to cite: Wieners, C. Haze, Hunger, Hesitation: Disaster Aid after the 1783 Lakagígar Eruption. Preprints 2020, 2020010070 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202001.0070.v1). Wieners, C. Haze, Hunger, Hesitation: Disaster Aid after the 1783 Lakagígar Eruption. Preprints 2020, 2020010070 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202001.0070.v1).

Abstract

The 1783-1784 Lakagígar eruption was probably the most severe natural catastrophe to occur in Iceland. While contemporary records suggest that no or few human lives were lost directly due to the eruption, vegetation damage by acid rain and fluorine poisoning caused a massive decimation of livestock, which led to a famine lasting 1.5 years. Contagious diseases also took many lives, but may be an indirect result of hunger. 18th Century Iceland was a Danish dependency and a subsistence farming community highly vulnerable to famine. Development of the fisheries could have improved the situation, but this did not occur. Instead, Iceland remained trapped in a vicious circle of conservatism, poverty, and lack of technological means (seaworthy fishing boats) sustained by artificially low fish prices decreed by the Danish king. During the famine, the Danish government was in principle willing to provide relief. However, local authorities in Iceland were slow to ask for help, and did not dare to exploit the means at their disposal (e.g. the right to ban the export of Icelandic foodstuff) without consent from Copenhagen. The Danish officials in turn were unwilling to act decisively upon incomplete information. These two factors prevented timely measures. While 440,000kg of grain were provided for famine relief in summer 1784, the merchants exported 1,200,000kg of fish, which greatly aggravated the hunger in the second winter. The effects of this `natural' catastrophe could therefore have been significantly reduced by efficient government.

Subject Areas

Iceland; volcanic eruption; famine; disaster aid

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