Philippines

The Taal Experience: Lessons on Inclusive Anticipation Action on Volcanic Disasters

Communities benefit through improved access to information, financial assistance, and disaster response capacity-strengthening tools when local governments employ an inclusive anticipation approach in managing volcanic risks.

Taal Volcano is classified as an active volcano in the province of Batangas in the Philippines. Its most recent major eruption in January 2020 left surrounding communities displaced and devastated from losing their homes and livelihoods. And yet, a few weeks later, the same communities found themselves more vulnerable amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

On July 1, 2021, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) raised the alert for Taal volcano to Alert Level 3. An average of 14,699 tons of volcanic sulfur dioxide from the Main Crater was recorded on July 9, the highest ever recorded in Taal. Anticipating a possible escalation to Alert Level 4 or hazardous volcanic eruption, Start Network members determined the immediate need to prepare the population and government for an upcoming crisis.

The Inclusive Anticipation Taal Action (IATAC) Project, funded through the Start Fund, aimed to strengthen at-risk communities and local governments to be more inclusive and proactive in dealing with and responding to Taal Volcano risks.

Led by a consortium of Relief International, Humanity and Inclusion, and Save the Children in partnership with Yakap sa Kaunlaran ng Bata, Inc., the IATAC project adopted participatory, integrated approaches across different sectors of interventions to respond to the communities' needs of anticipatory actions and awareness campaigns: Disaster Risk Management including capacity building and Inclusive Risk Communication and Community Engagement (IRCCE), Health (Covid-19), cash, protection, and livelihood.

A total of $137,093 (Php6.9 million) in multi-purpose cash assistance was distributed to 3,380 high-risk households in the municipalities of Agoncillo, Balete, Laurel, San Nicolas, Talisay, and Tanauan. Additionally, as support to ensuring a good preparation of evacuation in time of COVID-19, 14 barangays and 6 municipalities received COVID-19 PPE and Disinfection Kits as prepositioning for their evacuation centers.

The consortium implemented advocacy and awareness campaigns for 14 barangays in six municipalities to prevent Covid-19 and promote early anticipation actions in case of Taal Volcanic Eruption. Different modes of communication were used including IEC materials such as leaflets, pamphlets and tarpaulins, radio plugs and guesting, and other channels. Inclusive early warning kits were also distributed in the provincial, municipal, and barangay levels.

In terms of capacity building, the IATAC project trained over 1,050 community volunteers and local government officials on inclusive Early Action protocols, inclusive response, and micro-planning for disaster and camp management including a mainstream on Covid-19, gender-based violence (GBV) and prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (PSEAH).

Here are seven important lessons we can learn from the IATAC approach:

  1. Multipurpose cash as part of the anticipatory action will minimize risk to life and help people be more prepared to handle emergencies: The multipurpose cash assistance that was implemented was appropriate for the current need of the most at risk households though Taal Volcano alert level was downgraded and no emergency happened at the time of the implementation. The assistance helped beneficiaries in the recovery from the previous effects on livelihood and assets, and prepare for possible escalation through prepositioning. Their spending power increased as seen by their expenses in terms of their monthly income and how they spent the cash assistance. The top three major expenses were on food, utilities, and medicine. Given the reports on improved well-being of recipients, multipurpose cash assistance is recommended to future anticipation projects.

  2. Explore different modalities of cash or in-kind goods to provide flexibility of assistance in emergency situations: Cash or in-kind distribution should be flexible to cater to the needs and situations of different beneficiaries. This highlights the importance of creating multiple partnerships with different financial service providers and considering pandemic restrictions during beneficiary selection and cash distribution. Future recommendations include lobbying forecast-based financing with the LGUs and developing a basis or trigger for cash distribution (i.e., Alert-level based). Consideration for cash transfer should also be given to farmers who need to evacuate live stocks.

  3. Use of multimedia and community-based information sharing for IRCCE: The use of multimedia and traditional modes of communication should be utilized to ensure maximum and inclusive reach. In the case of IATAC Project, IEC, bandillo (tricycle with banners), recorrida (with loud speakers), and radio broadcast were effective to spread information on disaster preparedness for people to better know what to do in case of an emergency. Addition of messages on COVID-19 was crucial. With consideration of health protocols, face-to-face information-sharing was also effective. The communities themselves have the resources and capacity to conduct IRCCE activities, but the LGU and community members must be trained on IRCCE to provide them a sense of ownership of the anticipation activities.

  4. Ensure prepositioned stocks for Early Warning and Disinfection Kits: There is a possibility of supply chain disruption during volcanic eruptions and because local suppliers rarely have prepositioned stocks, this will inevitably cause delays. It is important to first consult with the local officials or community members as they know their primary needs. The quality of the materials should also be checked and there should be provisions for radio gadgets or solar chargers.

  5. Importance of Inclusivity: Most of the time, inclusivity is not included in the Disaster Risk Management at local level. It was key to sensitize LGUs on the inclusivity through inclusive early warning kits, taken into account the specific needs of the deaf for instance through colorful materials to guide them. Also during the RCCE activities or capacity building, specific messages or adaptation were done to target the people with disabilities.

  6. Anticipation and the change of mindset: One of the significant achievements of this project is that it influenced the mindset of the communities, government officials and local partners to move from traditional response to a culture of anticipation and resiliency, especially through preparedness such as livelihood evacuation for instance. Early action, mapping and preparation is the key to mitigating the loss in terms of social and economic aspects by enhancing social cohesion, strengthening information drive through IRCCE. Advocacy sessions are important to influence LGU's by raising awareness to promote Inclusive Anticipation Action in the local ordinances and frameworks in public policy, ensuring that the most vulnerable sectors are included not only in accessing social services, promoting the right to assistance but also in planning disaster risk management.

  7. Invest in online training tools, engaging content, and adoption of blended learning approach to capacity building: The use of innovative online tools are crucial for retaining engagement among participants. Handouts and printed materials to complement online trainings are still effective for better retention among implementing staff. In light of the evolving Covid-19 situation, blended learning can be encouraged. The inclusion of local translation costs in the proposal can also be considered (e.g. modules, presentation, surveys, etc.).

These lessons and insights show that inclusive Anticipation Action can significantly reduce the potential negative impact of volcanic risks to communities and help save lives. In order to sustain anticipatory action, implementers must place the meaningful participation of community leaders and members at the core of its response.