Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Effects of the Mayon Volcano

In the Philippines the Mayon volcano has been dangerously active during the last two days, with lava flows and continuous ash explosions threatening the surrounding population. As should be expected, the government has been evacuating the local villages, but many are refusing to leave, afraid that their cattle and crops will be ruined or stolen. There are two inspiring aspects of this story on if you read carefully. First would be the evacuations, and even though they are forced and have elicited a strict curfew to prevent those from returning, it seems to be rooted with honest best intentions. Second is the support being given by the Philippine government. The provincial government only has the resources for 4 weeks, when it looks like it will be 4 months before people can return to their homes. But:

“Social Welfare and Development Secretary Esperanza Cabral said some P98-million worth of relief goods would be made available to the evacuees in the province.

Cabral said the relief goods would be on top of the P22-million calamity fund that the DSWD would be using for relief and rehabilitation of affected residents.”

The Philippines lay on a part of the ‘Ring of Fire’, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have a long history of volcanic activity. The most recent disaster was on Mount Pinatubo, which Ed covered. In order to save the nearby city of Dapdap from mudslides, large dikes were built to reroute the threat. Unfortunately, these new routes forced the mud to wipe out the indigenous people. The Aetas, who inhabited the villages surrounding the volcano, had no choice but to move to the city and take up begging as their their livelihood.

It remains to be seen if this will repeat itself, but for the time being it looks like a lesson in humanity has been learned. Perhaps this is written with a heavy dose of naiveté, but it doesn’t seem so. The people’s lives being guarded (even though the delicacy of their tactics is questionable) and aid and shelter are readily available.

Mount Pinatubo opens up another discussion. On June 15th, 1991, the volcano shot sulfur dioxide 25 miles into the stratosphere, which caused the world’s temperature to drop slightly. That was merely one volcano, and even though the eruption was epic in scale, the delicacy of the Earth was painfully illustrated. We are indebted to volcanic activity for our continents, arable land and lives, but the change in temperature is easily paralleled. If one volcano can do so much, why is it so impossible to understand that we are causing the same effect? And yes, the damage of the volcano was not lasting, but ours doesn’t have to be either. As the volcano hanging above Legazpi City readies to blow, keep in mind how fragile our world is, and how important it is for us to take responsibility for our actions, here and abroad, humanitarian and environmental.

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