Editorial: Borderless climate event

WHEN it comes to an environmental incident, the impact is often not limited to the area, a city or town, where it happened.

Take the case of the ash eruption at the Taal Volcano last Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, 2020 and the lava explosion Monday, Jan. 13. The evacuation of residents covered hundreds of thousands not only in Cavite and Batangas provinces but in other areas as well. Earthquakes of varying intensities reached Tagaytay City, Batangas and Laguna.

The ashfall was widespread, reaching Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Marikina, Parañaque, Pasig, Quezon City, Manila City, Makati City and Taguig City.

Flights were cancelled and work and classes were suspended Monday as authorities warned of the dangers of repeated earthquakes and breathing the ash. Airlines were told that ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption posed hazards to aircraft.

The Taal explosions of ash and lava do not constitute a climate event per se but the particles spewed by the volcano can shade solar radiation and compromise air quality, making it dangerous for young children, elderly and the sick. Areas hit by the ashfall reported experiencing a sulfurous smell that can cause irritation. The fine ashfall can cause breathing problems. Those experiences point to a climate event.

In Cebu, the Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) said effects of the Taal explosions would not reach here but the cloudy weather has Cebuanos worried about the quality of the air they breathe.

The Taal Volcano incident raises the need for disaster preparedness to be comprehensive and literally far-reaching, to go beyond where it happened so all areas that stand to be affected would be covered by the preparations.

Government cannot prioritize those areas at the nation’s capital and postpone action on the periphery because what affects one can affect others, as the Taal Volcano ash and lava explosions have shown.

Reports said the main road from Tagaytay City going down was clogged since Sunday night by vehicles bringing people escaping the ashfall. Those without vehicles had to rely on public transportation which was not readily available or adequate and volunteers who offered their vehicles for the trip.

The last Taal Volcano eruption was in 1977 or 43 years ago, quite a long interval that probably allowed disaster management offices to relax their guard. But officials there should have known an eruption could happen because there are precursors such as a fish kill or rising water temperature that could have informed them of an impending explosion.

Those in charge of disaster preparedness and management should remind themselves that a climate event does not affect only the air above them but the air, sea, water, flight schedules, work and classes of other people.