Enhancing disaster preparedness

Enhancing disaster preparedness

In some lakefront towns of Batangas, visibility was zero after Taal Volcano exploded on Sunday, ejecting a massive plume of ash. The volcanic particles were borne by the wind to much of Batangas and Cavite, parts of Laguna and all the way to Metro Manila.

The last time the country saw such an enormous amount of ashfall was when Mt. Pinatubo woke up from hundreds of years of sleep and erupted in June 1991. The eruption of what most people didn’t even know was a volcano altered weather patterns around the planet and Pinatubo’s ash cloud reached as far as Vietnam.

Pinatubo led to improvements in the country’s preparedness for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic warning protocols have become better coordinated with evacuation and other emergency responses undertaken by local government units. Health officials now have on hand water purification tablets for distribution to areas where water supply has become contaminated by volcanic debris.

As experts have pointed out, however, the latest activity in Taal is showing areas where there is still room for improvement in preparedness for volcanic eruptions. Evacuation centers remain inadequate. The zero visibility due to the ashfall shows the need for fog lamps, to prevent accidents and improve relief assistance. Traumatized residents need more counselors for mental health.

Despite the clear danger, there were still people in the high-risk zones who showed strong reluctance to abandon their homes. One of the reasons was that they would have to abandon livestock and pets, which are not allowed in evacuation centers.

In other countries, there are evacuation areas and special shelters even for animals where their owners can continue caring for them during disasters. People breed livestock for livelihood, and keep pets for personal wellbeing. Being forced to abandon the animals can be extremely distressing for the owners. Wildlife also need protection from natural calamities.

Every calamity should lead to better measures for preparedness, resilience, emergency response and disaster mitigation. Taal Volcano should open opportunities for enhancing disaster response capability.

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