by Miriam Meijer

Travelers should educate themselves about countries with extraordinary geographical circumstances before they arrive at their destinations. Although the probability of a major earthquake occurring during an individual trip is remote, earthquakes can and will continue to happen. El Salvador (otherwise known as the "Land of Volcanoes") and India (subject to droughts, flash floodsearthquake, severe thunderstorms) have recently both experienced traumatic earthquakes. Details can be found at the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), part of the Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA). In the United States alone, there are tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquake activity around the Pacific Basin, hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, tornadoes in the midwest and southeast, mud slides in California, forest fires in the west, flooding, and permafrost in northern Alaska. In the world at large, certain regions are exposed to severe weather, like tropical cyclones, or to natural disasters like earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, or volcanic eruptions.

People have died falling from a peak near Machu Picchu in Peru. Inca trail hikers must exercise extreme caution in steep or slippery areas, which are neither fenced nor marked. Hikers have died and others have had to be rescued after serious accidents in the Huaraz region of the Cordillera Blanca mountains, Peru's highest peaks. Helicopters cannot fly to the high-altitude areas, so most rescues are carried out on foot. In Bolivia, the altitude of La Paz is over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters)high altitudes above sea level. The cold, thin air of the high plateau is an obstacle to physical activity by those unaccustomed to it from birth, and to efficient fuel combustion. Travelers should consult with their personal health care providers before undertaking high-altitude travel. The altitude alone poses a serious risk of illness, hospitalization, and even death, if you have a medical condition that affects blood circulation or breathing. Even healthy and fit persons will feel symptoms of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) at high altitude. Solo trekking is the most significant factor contributing to injuries and death. Coca-leaf tea is a popular folk remedy for altitude sickness, but possession of these tea bags, which are sold in most Bolivian grocery stores, is illegal in the United States!

Occasional eruptions in Guatemala, such as those in January-February 2000 of Pacaya Volcano, forced evacuations and briefly closed Guatemala City's international airport. The Caribbean coast is vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms from June through November. Ecuador has frequent earthquakes, landslides, volcanic activity, and periodic droughts. Since September 1998, the Guagua Pichincha Volcano has had an intermittent series of explosions and volcanovolcanic ash has fallen on Quito. The town of Baños was evacuated in November 1999 due to the Tungurahua Volcano. An explosive eruption could occur quickly and with little warning. The Quito City Government and the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute monitor these volcanoes. Travelers can get information about the volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another geologically-active country is Mexico, with tsunamis along the Pacific coast, volcanoes and destructive earthquakes in the center and south, and hurricanes on the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean coasts.

Tourists are scalded annually in Iceland because they get too close to an erupting geyser, or because they fall or step into a hot spring or boiling mud pot. There are few warning signs or barriers to alert travelers to the potential hazards of Iceland's glaciers, volcanic craters, lava fields, ice caves, hot springs, boiling mud pots, geysers, waterfalls and glacial nature's powersrivers. High winds and icy conditions can exacerbate the dangers of these nature areas. Katla—the large volcano beneath the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap in southern Iceland—has erupted twice a century on average (the last one in 1918). Consult Iceland's National Civil Defense Agency to learn what to do in the event of a natural disaster. Greenland has continuous permafrost over northern two-thirds of the island, as does most of Siberia. Many European nations experience flooding, avalanches, or droughts. Half of the Netherlands is artificially protected from flooding by an extensive system of dikes and dams. Venice in Italy is actually sinking. The Azores Islands of Portugal are subject to earthquakes; northern Turkey had a severe one not long ago.

A hot, driving windstorm called "khamsin" occurs every spring in Egypt. A dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring in the Western Sahara, where a widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time. There are recurring droughts in almost all of Africa; many parts get torrential flooding during the rainy seasons. Mozambique has had severe floods with devastating cyclones. There are volcanoes in the Cameroon and in Rwanda. Sandstorms and dust storms are a part of life throughout the Middle East. Bangladesh is often in the news for its droughts or cyclones; much of the country is routinely flooded during the Mount Fujisummer monsoon season. Pakistan has frequent earthquakes. Japan gets about 1,500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors) every year, as well as tsunamis. Indonesia suffers occasional floods, severe droughts, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Astride the typhoon belt, the Philippines expects 15 every year and also 5-6 cyclonic storms, and is prone to both volcanoes and earthquakes. China is affected by frequent typhoons (about 5 per year along southern and eastern coasts), damaging floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, and droughts. Hong Kong occasionally gets typhoons, as does Korea. Australia gets cyclones along the coast or severe droughts. Earthquakes are common, though usually not severe, in New Zealand. Situated along the Pacific "Rim of Fire," Papua New Guinea is subject to frequent and sometimes severe earthquakes, mud slides, tsunamis, and active volcanism. From June to December the Federated States of Micronesia cope with typhoons.

It is an extremely s h a k y world! Earthquakes are the one thing for which there really is no warning at all. The biggest danger in earthquakes are the man-made buildings. Insurance was born from the fact that it is easier to statistically predict the frequency of loss in a large pool of risks. Insurance companies pool the risks of hundreds of thousands of people by having each policyholder pay a premium that is small compared to the potential loss he/she is insuring. The most comprehensive selection of international medical insurance and trip protection products are available at

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Other helpful web sites include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The U.S. Department of State's Crisis Awareness and Preparedness and the CIA World Factbook, which lists the elevation extremes of every country, provided the above information.

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