Half a million people made homeless by the Taal volcano eruption will need immediate and long-term support as they face growing uncertainty over whether they will ever be able to return to their towns and villages.
As the volcano continues to erupt, Save the Children is warning of a prolonged crisis that could see hundreds of thousands of people unable to return to their homes for months and forced to live in evacuation centers or with friends and relatives. The Philippines government estimates that in the worst-case scenario communities may not be able to return for up to seven months, though that could change should there be a catastrophic eruption.
According to government figures, at least 580,000 pupils from more than 1,000 schools have been missing out on classes for the past two weeks, due to heavy ashfall in the provinces around the volcano and schools being used as evacuation centers. Of this figure, an estimated 55,000 schoolchildren come from the six abandoned towns located in the 14km danger zone where many classrooms are damaged and buried under hazardous ash. Many of these students could fall behind and miss graduation in three months, affecting their future job prospects. Meanwhile, more than 300 schools are still being used as evacuation centers.
Nearly 3,000 hectares of agricultural land – the main source of livelihood for people living near the volcano – is now covered in thick hazardous ash, crops are ruined and thousands of homes and schools have been severely damaged and will require rehabilitation. Thousands of farm animals have also died.
Jerome Balinton, Humanitarian Manager for Save the Children Philippines, said:
“We are concerned that thousands of children may not be able to return to their homes and communities for months, with many final year students risking missing their graduations. Being made homeless puts these children at serious risk of abuse and exploitation. Children in the evacuation centers are forced to bathe with little or no privacy, sharing the same facilities as adults. Mothers have told Save the Children they’re worried for their teenage daughters, many of whom don’t have any sanitary pads or even underwear as they were forced to flee quickly when the volcano began erupting.
“The emotional and psychosocial stress of being made suddenly homeless and surrounded by so many strangers in such close proximity are taking a toll on children. It’s vital that we meet their immediate needs for food, clothing, clean water, hygiene, and healthcare while recognizing that they need long-term solutions as well. This means setting up temporary schools so children can return to a normal routine while they wait for the fury of the volcano to subside.”
Save the Children is distributing family household and hygiene items to families. We have also set up mobile child-friendly spaces where children can learn and play in a safe environment while receiving emotional support.
The Philippines government has imposed mandatory evacuation for six towns around the volcano, forcing at least 300,000 people – of whom 124,000 are children – into one of the more than 450 evacuation centers. The government believes a deadly and destructive eruption is ‘imminent.’