THE Philippine defence chief has recommended an alternative to evacuating villages in a danger zone around Mount Mayon each time it erupts.

Delfin Lorenzana has said that the area surrounding the country’s most active volcano should be turned into a permanent “no man’s land”.

President Rodrigo Duterte expressed support for the plan during a meeting with officials dealing with the two-week eruption of Mayon.

However, Duterte said the government may have to expropriate land from private owners in order to bring the plan to fruition, and added that such a move could spark “a social problem again”.

Mayon has been belching red-hot lava fountains, huge columns of ash and molten rocks into the sky and plunging communities into darkness with falling ash in north-eastern Albay province, about 200 miles south-east of Manila. More than 80,000 villagers have fled to dozens of schools turned into emergency shelters, where a lack of toilets and other problems with congestion have emerged.

The proposal is complicated given that thousands of impoverished villagers have settled through the years in a government-declared 3.7-mile permanent danger zone around Mayon, where they have survived on farming for generations.

Authorities expanded the danger zone to cover more communities and forced thousands more to swarm into dozens of emergency school shelters. Albay governor Al Francis Bichara told the president and other officials that his provincial disaster funds were running low.

Albay officials declared the entire province of more than 1.3 million people under a state of calamity two weeks ago to allow faster releases of disaster funds. Duterte ordered the provision of additional funds to deal with the crisis.

While thousands have evacuated areas around the volcano, villagers have sneaked back in to check on their homes, farms and animals, and police and army troops have struggled to turn back tourists who want a closer view of Mayon.

Mayon, which is famous for its near-perfect cone, has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years.