PHILIPPINES: Preparing for the volcanoes

With 23 active volcanoes across the Philippines, many communities in this archipelago nation are preparing for the next big eruption.

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“Areas where there are frequent explosions are naturally more prepared than others,” Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), told IRIN. “Local officials appreciate the importance of being ready.”

Recent high-profile disasters around the world have resulted in a bigger appetite for risk reduction, Solidum said, with people asking for more preparedness training.

“They want to know what has to be done. They want to be aware of the appropriate tools to avoid disaster,” he said.

Bulusan action plan

For the past four years, the Bulusan volcano has been sporadically spewing ash. Since its first explosion on 26 October this year, the volume of ash has already reached an estimated 466,000 cubic metres, state scientists report.

And with recent explosions sending thick columns of ash up to 2km high, covering roofs, damaging crops and resulting in respiratory problems for local residents, communities are already gearing up.

The Bulusan volcano, in central Sorsogon Province, has erupted 15 times since 1886, most recently in 1995.

In 2006 when the volcano started showing abnormal activity again, the province drafted an Action Plan, detailing the preparedness drills to be undertaken, evacuation strategies, transportation requirements, search and rescue operations, and the emergency management system in place.

Communities around Bulusan are at alert level one, with five the highest. At level one, the public is reminded not to venture inside the 4km radius permanent danger zone (PDZ) given the risk of a sudden steam or ash explosion.

Moreover, aircraft are advised against flying close to the summit, while residents near valleys and rivers are recommended against using sediment-laden water from streams.

At the same time, contingency measures are in place should the alert level need to be raised.

“We are continuously updating our hazard maps. When the volcano calmed down in 2008, we started relocating people out of danger zones. The permanent mitigation is to vacate,” Jose Lopez, chief of Sorsogon’s provincial disaster risk reduction management office.

The Philippine Army led a preparedness drill recently, and about 200 families living near the volcano were evacuated.

Meanwhile, local hospitals, with the help of national organizations, continue to distribute masks and attend to residents with respiratory ailments.

The government is also prepared to evacuate up to 90,000 residents within a 9km radius of Bulusan, in case it begins erupting and a total evacuation is necessary, Lopez added.

Be prepared

“It always depends on how often the volcano erupts. Areas where there are frequent explosions are naturally more prepared than others. Local officials appreciate the importance of being ready. It’s the same case with Albay province because of Mayon volcano,” Solidum said.

For people in Irosin, Juban and Casiguran (towns around Bulusan) where volcanic activity is more common, it is a way of life, Lopez added.

The 2,460m high Mayon volcano, 45km northeast of Bulusan, is described as one of the country’s most active.

In December 2009 PHIVOLCS raised the area to alert level four for fear of a hazardous explosion and tens of thousands were evacuated.

Given the risk, Albay has installed a Geographic Information System naming all residents who would need to be evacuated in the event of another eruption. The system is being replicated in Sorsogon.

The provinces of Sorsogon and Albay are two of 14 where PHIVOLCS has trained people to properly respond to the dangers of volcanic eruptions.

To be fully prepared, Solidum says, coordination and cooperation with local authorities is vital.

“We have to make sure that the local government units understand the situation and they are ready to act,” he said.


Theme (s): Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]