By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
A group promoting children’s rights on Wednesday urged authorities to put up temporary schools for students who are missing out on classes especially with the current school year nears its end.
Save the Children said that one of the foremost concerns of both parents and learners is the continued disruption of classes in areas affected by Taal’s unrest. “We are concerned that thousands of children may not be able to return to their homes and communities for months, with many final year students risking missing their graduations,” said Save the Children Philippines (SCP) Humanitarian Manager Jerome Balinton.
Balinton said that the continued unrest of the Taal volcano may leave children homeless for months. “This means setting up temporary schools so children can return to a normal routine while they wait for the fury of the volcano to subside,” he added.
SCP said that half a million people made homeless by the Taal volcano eruption will also need “immediate and long-term support as they face growing uncertainty over whether they will ever be able to return to their towns and villages.”
As Taal continues to erupt, SCP warned of a “prolonged crisis that could see hundreds of thousands of people unable to return to their homes for months and forced to live in evacuation centers or with friends and relatives.”
Citing Philippine government’s estimates, SCP said that in the “worst case scenario communities may not be able to return for up to seven months, though that could change should there be a catastrophic eruption.” According to government figures, SCP said that at least 580,000 pupils from more than 1,000 schools have been missing out on classes for the past two weeks due to heavy ashfall in the provinces around the volcano and schools being used as evacuation centers.
“Of this figure, an estimated 55,000 schoolchildren come from the six abandoned towns located in the 14km danger zone where many classrooms are damaged and buried under hazardous ash,” SCP said. “Many of these students could fall behind and miss graduation in three months, affecting their future job prospects,” SCP added. Meanwhile, the group stressed that more than 300 schools are still being used as evacuation centers.
The SCP added that nearly 3,000 hectares of agricultural land – the main source of livelihood for people living near the volcano – is “now covered in thick hazardous ash, crops are ruined and thousands of homes and schools have been severely damaged and will require rehabilitation” while thousands of farm animals have also died.
Focus on safety of children
Meanwhile, the SCP also raised concern on the condition of children – especially those who are relocated in evacuation centers (ECs).
“Being made homeless puts these children at serious risk of abuse and exploitation,” Balinton said. “Children in the evacuation centers are forced to bathe with little or no privacy, sharing the same facilities as adults,” he added.
Many mothers, SCP said, also expressed their concern for their daughters who are also staying in ECs. “They’re worried for their teenage daughters, many of whom don’t have any sanitary pads or even underwear as they were forced to flee quickly when the volcano began erupting,” Balinton shared.
Balinton also noted how emotional and psychosocial stress of being made suddenly homeless and surrounded by so many strangers in such close proximity are taking a toll on children. “It’s vital that we meet their immediate needs for food, clothing, clean water, hygiene and healthcare, while recognizing that they need long-term solutions as well,” he added.
In the past days, SCP has been distributing family household and hygiene items to families affected by the Taal crisis. “We have also set up mobile child-friendly spaces where children can learn and play in a safe environment while receiving emotional support,” Balinton said.
The government has earlier imposed mandatory evacuation for six towns around the volcano, forcing at least 300,000 people – of whom 124,000 are children – into one of the more than 450 evacuation centers. State volcanonologists believe that a deadly and destructive eruption remains “imminent” as Alert Level 4 warning is still raised.