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LA PALMA

How often do volcanic eruptions happen in Spain and the Canary Islands?

The Canary archipelago is the Spanish region with most volcanoes, but how often do they erupt and how high is the risk to property and lives?

How often do volcanic eruptions happen in Spain and the Canary Islands?
Mount Cumbre Vieja erupts in the town of El Paso in La Palma. How often do volcanic eruptions happen in the Canaries? Photo: Desiree Martin/AFP

Volcanoes are part of the Canaries’ DNA. They define their distinctive landscapes, explain why most beaches have black sand and even add a unique flavour to local wines. 

There are 33 volcanoes across the archipelago’s islands: 6 in Fuerteventura, 10 in Gran Canaria, 11 in Tenerife, 1 in La Gomera, 10 in La Palma, 5 in Lanzarote, and 1 in El Hierro. 

The biggest of all is Spain’s highest peak – Teide – which reaches majestically into the sky on the island of Tenerife, 3,718 metres above sea level.

Up until now, most Canarios have gone about their business without worrying for a second about the possibility of one of nature’s most incredible but destructive spectacles affecting them during their lifetimes.

The current volcanic eruptions on La Palma – known locally as La Isla Bonita (the Beautiful Island) – have certainly changed that.

But how great is the risk of more volcanic eruptions taking place on this Atlantic archipelago? And are there other parts of Spain with active volcanoes?

Canary Islands 

The last volcanic eruption that took place in Spain was also on the northwestern island of La Palma – the Teneguía, which erupted 50 years ago.

There was a more recent eruption in Spain in October 2011, but it occurred underwater off the coast of El Hierro, south of La Palma.  

The last eruption on Tenerife was the Chinyero volcano in 1909. 

It’s part of the same volcanic family in the centre of the island as El Teide so this is considered by some to be the last eruption of the Canary’s biggest volcano, even though the lava did come bursting out of the new Chinyero volcano to the west.

It lasted around 10 days, caused some destruction of property but no loss of lives, and covered large parts of the island in ash.

Confirmed historical accounts suggest Mount Teide has erupted at least six times in roughly the last 500 years: 1492, 1704, 1706, 1798 and 1909.

Christopher Columbus happened to be in the Canaries in 1492 before setting off to stumble across the ‘New World’ making a note of the volcanic eruption in his diary.

Historical records also suggest La Palma has had seven volcanic eruptions since 1430.

Volcanic activity has occurred in the past 600 years on all the Canary Islands except La Gomera, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura. 

volcanic eruptions canary islands history

According to the Canary government, the archipelago’s volcanoes are of the “effusive type”, meaning the lava steadily flows out of a volcano onto the ground, making them “less dangerous and destructive”. 

Does that mean there is no risk to property or life if a volcano erupts in the Canary Islands? 

Given the nature of eruptions, the teams of experts monitoring seismic activity around the clock and quick police response on the islands, the risk to human lives is low.

But the more than 700 buildings destroyed over the past week in areas close to the Cumbre Vieja eruptions prove that even if the lava flows slowly, not much can be done to stop it in its tracks. 

Mount Teide as seen from the touristy city of Puerto de la Cruz in the north of Tenerife. Photo: Wikipedia

The islands, in particular Tenerife and Gran Canaria, are densely populated given their small size and their 2.2 million inhabitants, so building homes in areas which could be in danger in the unlikely event of an eruption is a risk they’re willing to take.  

But is the threat any greater than living on an earthquake fault line, an area that’s prone to recurring flooding or forest fires? Taking into account the law of averages, the risk of volcanic eruptions is far lower.

Mainland Spain   

There are around 65 volcanoes across mainland Spain, mostly running along its eastern side.  

The areas which house most of them on la península (the mainland) are La Garrotxa (Girona in Catalonia), Cabo de Gata (Almería in Andalusia), Cofrentes (Valencia), the Columbretes Islands (Castellón province) and Campos de Calatrava (Ciudad Real).

The volcanoes found in Girona in northwest Spain are the only ones on mainland Spain that are active. 

In order for a volcano to be considered active, it has to have erupted over the past 10,000 to 15,000 years.

Even though there are around 40 volcanic cones in Girona, there hasn’t been an eruption there in thousands of years.

Therefore, the risk of a volcanic eruption happening anytime soon anywhere else in Spain apart from the Canary Islands is extremely slim.

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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