The island is supposed to be a no-man’s land. Yet even with Taal Volcano Island under Alert Level 1 after the volcano simmered down following its phreatic eruption on Jan. 13 last year, people returned to their homes and resumed livelihoods on the island.
This is evident in the need to evacuate the residents after about 100 tremors lasting from five to 12 minutes were recorded on the island last Tuesday, indicating volcanic activity. While there was no ashfall and the worst scenario at this point is a steam-driven or phreatic explosion that is weaker than the one in January last year, the evacuation is a precautionary measure, according to disaster management officials.
Local government executives in the area said keeping out people from the volcano danger zone is the task of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Evacuation is one thing, however; preventing evacuees from returning to their homes is another and is a shared responsibility of several agencies.
Those affected by the latest volcanic activity said they were born on the island and their livelihoods were anchored on the island and its surrounding waters. Last year, as the sudden eruption prompted rapid evacuation with limited resources, horses used by residents for tourism were left on the island together with livestock kept in backyards. As the volcano simmered down, residents evaded patrols and risked getting caught in another eruption to rescue their animals.
Those scenes from last year highlight the importance of providing evacuees with sustainable livelihoods if authorities want to maintain the volcano island as a permanent danger zone where human settlement is prohibited. The current alert level on the island means there is a possibility of sudden phreatic explosions, earthquakes that can cause ground displacement, minor ashfall and expulsions of gas that can be lethal. If the government wants to keep island residents permanently away from harm, it should provide them with viable alternatives.