Mayon Volcano will remain restive for about three more months, volcanologists have warned. In temporary shelters now housing thousands of evacuees, relief supplies are running out. Problems arising from overcrowding are emerging, including the spread of diseases.
The situation in Albay, where the evacuees from communities around Mayon have been provided shelter, should encourage the government to heed a suggestion from certain quarters: build permanent evacuation facilities.
Evacuees are typically housed in school buildings and gymnasiums. These facilities, obviously, are not built to serve as homes away from home when disaster strikes. Toilets are quickly overwhelmed and water supply is rarely sufficient. Sanitary conditions soon become appalling, promoting the spread of water-borne diseases. Temporary shelters provide little privacy. In the crowded surroundings, infants are at high risk of contracting infections and developing life-threatening sepsis.
As proponents of permanent evacuation facilities have pointed out, putting evacuees in school buildings for prolonged periods also displace the students in the school.
Perhaps government officials want to keep evacuation centers as uncomfortable as possible to ensure that evacuees will not linger one moment longer than needed in the temporary shelters. But poor conditions in evacuation centers, combined with the fear of burglary, make it difficult to persuade residents to abandon their homes even when disaster looms. This contributed to the high death toll when Super Typhoon Yolanda tore through Eastern Visayas.
The Philippine archipelago lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly visited by natural calamities: powerful quakes, volcanic eruptions, super typhoons and consequent torrential flooding and killer landslides. Preparing decent evacuation centers for disaster victims should have been prioritized a long time ago.