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Minimizing Taal’s Damage

It is too early to estimate the impact of Taal Volcano’s unrest on the general economy at this point, and we can only pray that the worst of the volcanic activity is over.

 

As the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reminds people to stay away from the 14-kilometer danger zone for fear of a hazardous explosive eruption, I hope everyone will be safe from this natural calamity.

 

Our country is prone to natural disasters given its location in the “Ring of Fire.” Luzon and Visayas were battered by several typhoons while Mindanao experienced a series of tremors last year.  Now, we have to deal with the wrath of Taal, which in 1754 buried several communities of Batangas (Bonbon).

 

This highlights the need of our national government, local government units, private companies, and communities to prepare a risk management plan.

 

We know that Taal Volcano is one of the most active in the world. Yet, we have millions of people living around it. The best we could do is to have contingency measures in place, in case the volcano behaves erratically like it did in the past.

 

Taal’s phreatic eruption on January 12, spread ashes as far as Metro Manila and Central Luzon, causing the shutdown of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Fortunately, the cancellation of flights lasted for only one to two days. The closure of the airport for several days or weeks would have taken its toll on the economy.

 

So far, Taal’s unrest led to the relocation of over 200,000 people from barangays surrounding the volcano and forced the lockdown of several Batangas towns within the 14-km radius, which is considered high risk. It affected the agriculture, fisheries, and livestock sectors in these areas. More than 2,700 fishermen depend on the 239-square-km Taal Lake for their livelihood. Two freshwater species tawilis and maliputo are endemic to the area.

 

Tourism activities in Tagaytay City, not surprisingly, came to a halt. The two electric cooperatives in Batangas—Batangas 1 Electric Cooperative Inc. and Batangas 2 Electric Cooperative Inc.—reported a drastic drop in power consumption. Several power plants in Batangas were operating below their production capacity.  

 

Initial estimates by the National Economic and Development Authority showed that Taal’s unrest resulted in P4.3 billion in economic losses within the 14-km radius of Taal, representing 0.17 percent of the gross regional domestic product of Calabarzon. The figure would balloon to P6.6 billion if the high-risk areas were expanded to a 17-km radius.

 

Sixteen towns and cities are within the 14-km radius, including San Nicolas, Agoncillo, Talisay, Laurel, Tanauan City, Tagaytay City, Cuenca, Mataas na Kahoy, Balete, Lemery, Taal, Lipa City, Santa Teresita, Malvar, Alitagtag and San Jose. Ten more towns would be added to the list if the high-risk areas would expand to a 17-km radius, including Alfonso, Calaca, Bauan, Lian, Nasugbu, San Luis, San Pascual, Santo Tomas, Tuy and Balayan.

 

Yet, there were still pieces of good news. Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said about 90 percent of companies operating in the Calabarzon region have resumed operations, after a temporary disruption of one to two days.

 

Some of the largest industrial parks in the provinces of Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna had to temporarily stop their operations on January 12 and 13 as Taal Volcano spewed thick ashes that posed threat to human health. Companies quickly conducted a massive cleanup to resume operations after the wind changed direction.

 

However, businesses within the 14-km danger zone as identified in the Taal Volcano Base Surge Hazard Map released by Phivolcs were told to evacuate, along with the residents.

 

Philvolcs also encourages businesses outside the 14-km radius to have contingency measures and risk management plans ready in case of a hazardous eruption. The plan should include safety, recovery, and cleanup measures. The Department of Trade and Industry says the priority should be the safety of workers and their families before business continuity.

 

As Taal’s unrest is expected to last for weeks, if not months, it is important that there is a constant flow of communication between the government, businesses, and communities to avoid the loss of lives.  Although no country can truly prepare for natural disasters as serious as what confront the Philippines, we should constantly observe risk management to mitigate the impact of calamities on our people and our economy.

 

It is heartening to see the long lines of vehicles carrying relief goods to Batangas towns following the volcano’s eruption. Coordination with government agencies is critical to make sure the private-sector assistance will have the most meaningful impact on the most affected communities.

 

The government should also extend guidance and assistance to businesses at this point in terms of information, power and water security, and infrastructure to ensure business continuity. In case of disruption, we should try to quickly recover as a showcase of Filipino resiliency.