DSWD 'ready' if Taal Volcano eruption extends for months

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said in a press briefing on Monday, January 20, that it has preparations underway should the eruption of Taal Volcano last for months.

DSWD spokesperson Irene Dumlao said they discussed recovery and rehabilitation plans in a meeting in Batangas City last Saturday, January 18. These include emergency cash transfers, emergency shelter assistance, and rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure through food-for-work or cash-for-work programs.

Dumlao also said they are coordinating with other government agencies to fill in "critical gaps in livelihood," particularly in agriculture.

As for the respective needs of each affected area, Dumlao said they are assessing how to help local government units in providing appropriate aid to their constituents.

Dumlao also reminded the public who want to donate or hold private relief operations to coordinate with the DSWD donations management section, which can be reached at 83552849, local number 401.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), there are at least 53,716 families affected by the eruption as of noon on Monday. (READ: Taal Volcano eruption: What we know about affected towns, cities)

Are there enough funds?

Office of Civil Defense Assistant Secretary Casiano Monilla said there are sufficient funds to assist evacuees, and more could be tapped as needed.

"Enough naman ang pera. Kung na-deplete ang pera ng NDRRMC o allocated funds, ang alam ko, merong P3 billion pa rin [na] allocated standby fund ang gobyerno," said Monilla.

(The money is enough. If the NDRRMC's money or other allocated funds get depleted, I know there is a P3-billion standby fund allocated by the government.)

There is a P16-billion calamity fund under the 2020 budget, with an additional P11 billion unused from 2019. This leaves a total of P27 billion for use during calamities, since the validity of the 2019 budget was extended to this year.

The DSWD earlier called for donations of non-food items due to a deluge in food donations received by evacuation centers in Batangas.

Volcano's current status

In the same press briefing, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Director Renato Solidum Jr said they cannot lower Taal's alert level just yet. (READ: Taal Volcano's 2020 eruption: What we know so far)

He said they observed an increased level of sulfur dioxide emission, which means that more magma is underneath. Water under the volcano is heated by the magma and has potential to explode.

"Hindi namin puwedeng ibaba ang Alert Level 4 sa patuloy na pag-akyat ng magma. May mga apparent waning of activities sa ibabaw, [pero] hindi makikita ng tao 'yung maraming paglindol at umaangat pa ang isla. May pressure 'yan. 'Di masasabi na hindi mangyayari ang pagsabog," said Solidum.

(We can't lower Alert Level 4 as magma continues to rise. There is an apparent waning of activities at the surface, but volcanic earthquakes and volcanic deformation are factors that aren't visual. There's pressure there. We can't say that a hazardous eruption will no longer happen.) – Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.