Volcanologists have been saying it all along: there is a danger zone around Taal Volcano where human settlement should have been prohibited decades ago. The volcano has manifested its fury several times in recorded history, with its eruptions destroying several lakeshore communities and redrawing the map of Batangas.
Now, with a humanitarian crisis emerging in the long wait for Taal to again do its worst – or else simmer down – government officials are reported to be seriously considering the permanent relocation of communities within a 14-kilometer-radius danger zone. The proposal reportedly has the support of a majority of Cabinet members.
This will require substantial funds that must be properly invested in the efficient development of permanent settlements. It also must consider what will be done to the areas that may have to be abandoned for good. Although devastated by ashfall, most of the houses, schools, offices, commercial and industrial establishments as well as public works infrastructure remain intact and, with a bit of cleanup, will still be in good working condition if ever the feared major eruption does not come to pass. It would be difficult to persuade people to leave such areas for good.
Even now, with Alert Level 4 still in place around the danger zone but with volcanic activity appearing to simmer down, affected residents are already eager to return home at their own risk. Still, declaring at least the Volcano Island as a permanent no-man’s land is worth considering.
A less complicated measure to pursue at this point is the development of permanent evacuation centers. Despite a continuing stream of donations delivered to evacuation centers for two weeks now since Taal’s phreatic explosion on Jan. 12, the situation in the temporary shelters can only deteriorate.
Health officials have noted the poor hygiene and sanitation facilities that lower immunity to harmful organisms. Crowding facilitates infection. Serious health conditions are aggravated by the stress of evacuation and the uncertainty of lost livelihoods.
Education officials are also urging policy makers to stop using public schools as evacuation centers, because it disrupts the education even of children outside the high-risk areas.
With regular occurrences of destructive typhoons, floods and earthquakes, the country has needed decent, permanent evacuation centers for a long time. Perhaps with the situation around Taal, efforts will finally get underway to meet this need.