By SENATOR SONNY ANGARA
The Taal Volcano eruption has taken a terrible toll on the lives of our fellow Filipinos. The misery of being evacuated and relocated, perhaps permanently, from one’s own home is unimaginable. We can only hope—and act—that those affected will be able to bounce back.
One aspect that we must address when it comes to such a national disaster is one of rebuilding livelihoods in the future—and in this case, how to rescue and, if necessary, replace lost agricultural resources, particularly livestock.
In January, 2018, the Philippine News Agency reported that Legazpi City had set up an animal evacuation center due to the continuous eruption of Mayon Volcano. The local government found it necessary to create such a center for all the animals found in the permanent 6-kilometer danger zone and the 8-kilometer extended danger areas. A one-hectare area outside the danger zone was assigned as the animal center.
Such intervention is particularly laudable, since these animals are a crucial part of the residents’ livelihood and daily source of income. Some have even described such livestock as the farmers’ “living savings accounts.”
Now, with the ongoing Taal disaster, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is estimating a possible loss of 1,967 animals, and agricultural damage affecting 2,772 hectares. To counter this, the DA is planning to have provisions for livestock restocking, and the replenishing of up to millions of fingerlings for the various fish species that aquaculture operations breed in Taal Lake, once operations can resume.
More study and policy experimentation should now touch on how we take care of our agricultural livestock resources before and during—as opposed to just after a disaster hits. The Asian Development Bank, for example, has a Disaster Management Handbook where the importance of warning systems is underscored as integral to the disaster response. And in the case of livestock, this may mean the timely evacuation of animals from the danger areas.
Meanwhile, there is a 2009 Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies paper on the subject of livestock evacuation itself. The paper acknowledged that preparation beforehand is important, particularly for unpredictable disasters such as earthquakes – and, in the case of Taal, volcanic eruptions. Logistical problems will present themselves, and proper preparation and organizational actions can minimize the loss of livestock. This could mean the prepositioning of disaster response assets, and constant drilling and practice.
In Western Australia, livestock owners are responsible for their animals, though the government does emphasize that a previously prepared emergency plan is needed. As with what happened in Legazpi City, evacuation centers for animals are also one of the options for the local communities there during natural disasters.
What we need to study and prepare for now are future disasters where agricultural resources, specifically our livestock, will be affected. Given typhoons, earthquakes, and, yes, volcanic eruptions, we have to talk with community stakeholders in agricultural areas about the possibility of animal evacuation centers, the logistical process for keeping track of ownership, and how all the animals will be fed and kept reasonably healthy for the duration of the disaster.
With our filing of Senate Bill 331, the proposed Disaster Resilience Act of 2019, the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience could possibly jumpstart talks on minimizing damage to our agricultural resources, particularly on how to evacuate and save animals as part of disaster preparedness, risk reduction, and recovery.
In the past few days, we have seen how a volcanic eruption can catch communities by surprise; we have seen haunting images of animals and livestock, buried in mud, haunting symbols of the loss of livelihood for many families. Looking back, we have also seen how, in 2014, 50,000 people and their livestock were evacuated in Albay, a preemptive move to keep people and their livelihoods safe from an impending eruption of Mayon Volcano. While we cannot avoid natural disasters, let us all come together to make sure that we will be prepared for them in the future. Evacuating livestock can mean livelihoods preserved.
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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.