Families eating and resting at Bauan Cockpit Arena which now serves as an evacuation center.
Photo by LJ Pasion/Save the Children
'Heartbreaking' situation for 'under-reported' evacuees — humanitarian group
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - January 15, 2020 - 5:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — The dire situation facing a number of the evacuation centers for those displaced by the effects of Taal Volcano's recent eruption could potentially have serious effects on some 21,000 children seeking refuge there, an international child welfare organization said on Wednesday. 

Rampant ashfall following Taal Volcano's eruptions continues to disrupt the lives of many as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council recorded on Wednesday morning a new high of 12,486 families—53,019 people—who were affected by volcanic unrest.

In three of these evacuation centers, though, Save the Children Philippines in an assessment sent to Philstar.com outlined a number of main concerns on the conditions of child evacuees, namely sanitation, food, protection and health.

According to the humanitarian organization, whose team conducted an assessment of three centers, evacuees "showed signs of distress" as the circumstances they faced included insufficient toilets, a pronounced lack of space and privacy and an urgent need for psychosocial support for children. 

"Children are not just little adults; they require specific support to meet their emotional and psychological needs. Infants, toddlers, and children require special care and supplies during and after natural disasters," Alberto Muyot, CEO for Save the Children Philippines, said.

"Unless this support is provided quickly, children are likely to suffer long-term developmental, physical and psychological setbacks."

The group expressed concern, too, that the fundraisers and donation drives from private entities were almost solely sustaining evacuees but could soon run dry. 

LIST: Where you can donate for Taal Volcano relief efforts

An evacuation center in the Bauan Cockpit in Barangay Manghinao, Bauan, was described by the organization as having a "heart-breaking situation" amid the inflow of some 870 families seeking temporary shelter. "There are at least 80 children staying in this cockpit-turned-evacuation center. There’s a one-month old, two-month old who is suffering from cough," the report read. 

"Evacuees are staying in pavement; only ‘mat’ where they sleep are those used cartons distributed by private individuals."

The Batangas Provincial Sports Complex in Barangay Bolbok was not much better.

In the makeshift evacuation center, Save the Children observed that "[m]ore than 4,000 individuals are taking temporary refuge" while "[e]vacuees [were] overflowing; those didn’t find space inside opted to stay outside the stadium.

"Small children are suffering from respiratory diseases such as coughs and colds due to close proximity to so many other people. With over 200 volcanic earthquakes reported since Sunday, families have no idea when or even if they will be able to return to their homes. This uncertainty can be devastating for children,” Jerome Balinton, humanitarian manager for the Save the Children Philippines, said.

Under-reported numbers

Exactly 10,000 families—totaling 43,681 persons—were seeking temporary shelter in 217 evacuation centers in the region, a bulletin by the NDRRMC said. 

But Save the Children in an earlier statement also said the NDRRMC and other government organizations could potentially be under-reporting the actual number of those displaced. 

"The reported figures don’t count yet those affected residents who are staying with their friends and relatives," they said in a previous statement. 

"The population of Agoncillo alone in 2015 is 38,000, and the local government unit said the entire municipality was evacuated."

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in a report also said that there were around 459,300 living in the danger zone.

"[T]here are other residents displaced from Laurel (with 39,999 population in 2015; San Nicolas with 22,623 population in 2015; and Talisay with 45,301 population in 2015; Lemery with 93,157 population in 2015," Save the Children added in their assessment. 

Disaster unresilience

Amid these conditions, a House lawmaker on Monday called for a probe into what he said was a lackluster information dissemination campaign behind the active volcano. 

"Filipinos were taken by surprise by the recent Taal Volcano eruption wherein the losses in terms of life and property are still unaccounted for," Rep. Elpidio Barzaga (Cavite) wrote in a House resolution. 

In a survey of 624 households in the region, a 2018 study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative's Program on Resilient Communities found that 43% of the Calabarzon population believed that it was children who were the most vulnerable to natural disasters such as this one. This was followed by the elderly, the poor and the disabled, in that order.

The study also found that 99.80% of homes across the Philippines "had no disaster management plan specific for volcanic eruption."

Of the aforementioned evacuation centers, Save the Children Philippines bared that "[t]here are protection concerns on the lack of proper information on the evacuees who are staying; no information on children, persons with disabilities, pregnant."

Taal's main crater erupted steam on Sunday afternoon, prompting state volcanology bureau Phivolcs to burn through alert levels 2 through 4 in the hours following this. 

Days after, they warned that a hazardous volcanic eruption was imminent and could happen within hours to days. On their 8 a.m. bulletin on Wednesday, though, state volcanologists said that the volcano displayed "generally weaker" activity throughout the past 24 hours. 

READ: NDRRMC on red alert over Taal unrest

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