Sadly, the impending eruption of Mayon Volcano again reveals the government’s ad hoc approach to calamity.
Mayon has spewed ash and lava at least 50 times since its first recorded activity some 400 years ago, so it’s reasonable to expect that the constant threat of volcanic activity has resulted in a comprehensive plan to cope with this inevitable crisis.
The plan would conceivably cover the evacuation of residents, the construction of permanent shelters, the funding sources for food and relief goods, as well as livelihood and rehabilitation once the calamity has passed.
The number of evacuees swelled to 15,410 in the towns of Camalig, Guinobatan and Malilipot and the cities of Tabaco and Ligao after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised Alert Level 3 upon observing Mayon’s lava flow.
Phivolcs also extended the danger zone to a 7-km radius of the volcano and banned any human activity within the area.
This patchwork response is hardly reassuring, given the number of calamities that hit the country regularly: from the 20 or so typhoons a year to the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes common in countries like ours located in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
One town mayor has in fact expressed worry about food and fund shortage should evacuees stay longer in shelters which — guess what — are the usual public school classrooms.
With more evacuees expected, the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office has floated the possibility of putting up tents — another instance of government agencies being reactive, instead of proactive, to the situation.
Albay has been put under a state of calamity, which means that the local governments units can now access emergency funds as needed.
When Tropical Storm “Ondoy” devastated Metro Manila in 2009, the one upside to the massive flooding was the decision of some LGUs to buy rescue equipment — including rubber boats, floaters, life vests, and other safety devices — and to come up with a protocol in flood-prone areas (like barangays along Marikina River) when evacuation becomes the automatic response, depending on the flood alert level. Drills, too, are held regularly to train volunteers on emergency response.
Meanwhile, in Macabebe, Pampanga, two permanent evacuation centers have been built, according to its municipal administrator and disaster management officer.
Using donations from international organizations, the LGU built cubicles that provide privacy to families, with the cubicles packed into a storage room after the crisis has passed. The space then doubles as a meeting room for LGU offices, a training center, and a social hall.
It’s a good practice that other LGUs might want to follow, especially because most families in times of emergency resist calls for evacuation not only because of concerns over their property and farm animals left behind, but also because of cramped conditions in makeshift shelters.
So far, there have been good initiatives at this time when people should pull together.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development said it had a standby fund of P5.66 million and a stockpile of 13,352 food packs that families staying in evacuation centers could access.
So far, disaster-response officials said, nearly 1,000 families have been evacuated since last Saturday when Mayon started spewing steam and ash. But how to stretch such funds and relief goods among those whose lives have been disrupted by Mayon remains a major challenge.
Aside from monitoring the volcano, Phivolcs has advised residents to wear face masks as a precautionary measure against the ash fall that can cause, or worsen, cough, cold, asthma and other respiratory ailments.
The Department of Public Works and Highways has meanwhile prepositioned heavy equipment and service vehicles to aid in road-clearing operations, evacuation of residents, and delivery of relief goods. It is also keeping close watch on roads and rivers that may be affected by lava flow.
The Catholic Church has pitched in as well, with the Diocese of Legazpi appealing to the faithful to pray the “Oratio Imperata for Calamity.” Amid the threat of eruption, the Oratio — prayed almost every 30 minutes by different radio stations — is considered “a spiritual intervention that forms part of preparation for the faithful.”
For sure, such efforts and initiatives are good and worth mentioning. But what about a more permanent and official response that people can bank on in troubled times? During occasions like these, uncertainty is the last thing they need.
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