Megacities at risk: Earthquakes (continued)
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2019 - 12:01am

In my last column I talked about the risk from earthquakes shared by megacities that lie along the rim of fire.  That includes Tokyo, Taipei, San Francisco, and Manila. As I mentioned in that column, I am orchestrating a conference that would enable these cities to compare notes in reducing risks from potentially devastating events.

Iloilo City is not a megacity, but presents an ideal situation to pilot test best practices for risk reduction that can be applied to major urban conurbations. Iloilo City is a growing coastal urban center of about half a million people. Metropolitan Iloilo, however, includes one million people, an international airport, and one of the busiest seaports in the country. It was the site of the APEC Emergency Preparedness Working Group meeting in 2015 and has since attracted many tourists, new businesses, and international conferences.

Recalling the devastating magnitude 8.2 Lady Caycay earthquake in 1948 was the second strongest earthquake in the Philippines’ 500-year history, and the seismicity of the region, Iloilo City was chosen by Phivolcs and geoscience as the subject of a pilot earthquake impact assessment study in 2012.

Using a combination of tools and methods, the study estimated potential number of casualties and building damage and loss for two scenarios: 6.3 magnitude earthquake southwest of Iloilo City and an 8.1 magnitude movement of the West Panay Fault. In both scenarios, thousands of buildings are projected to collapse or be damaged and the estimated amount of casualties just from the direct impact of the earthquakes range from approximately 470 to 1,500.

Given these hazards, Iloilo’s disaster risk is even more complex today due to mushrooming commercial, industrial, and residential developments. Moreover, land use changes are disrupting natural ecosystems and the environment.

This highlights the importance of resilient development which includes land use management and application of building codes and appropriate construction techniques. Historically, construction techniques can have a huge impact on the death toll from earthquakes. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile in 2010 killed more than 700 people. On Jan. 12, 2010, a less powerful earthquake, measuring 7.0, killed more than 200,000 in Haiti. The difference in those death tolls comes from compliance and building construction and technology. In Haiti, the buildings were constructed quickly and cheaply. Chile, a richer and more industrialized nation, adhered to more stringent building codes.

Iloilo City became a pilot local government partner of the National Resilience Council in 2017 in order to build its capacity to use science and technology-based public-private partnerships for risk governance and resilient development.

Its main challenge was in integrating scientific information on hazards, analyzing and communicating risk, and then translating these into evidence-informed action.  While resources were available for disaster risk reduction, these are spent on emergency preparedness for response, rather than on the reduction and transformation of risk.

Iloilo City partnered with the National Resilience Council, Chinese Taipei’s National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction (NCDR)  and the Manila Observatory to pilot a cloud-based integrated information system as a decision-support tool. The web GIS-based system would enhance situation awareness to support decision-making on risk reduction. The system will show data from the Manila Observatory’s automated weather station network and 20 new earthquake P-Alert early warning instruments and rain gauges. It will also feature exposure and vulnerability data from different sectors. These instruments will be placed in public and private structures and they will be connected to servers in the LGU office, the Manila Observatory and in NCDR. Capacity building to enhance and maintain the platform will be provided to the LGU and the local university partners.

The results/findings of this significant pilot will greatly assist us in our endeavors addressing the “big one” in Metro Manila. It should be noted that this pilot project and the conference entitled “Megacities at Risk: Engineering Resilience to Seismic Hazards” taking place later this month will be followed by more workshops and events.  It is clearly not a one-off event.

Request for support

It is clear that risk reduction and resilient development require integrated public-private collaboration. The National Resilience Council, which is supported by SM Prime and San Miguel Foundation, among others, co-designed the Megacities conference program. The output from these endeavors should, thus, also be of interest to forward thinking real estate developers as well as those that are directly involved in responding to disasters including insurance companies.  To date, I am pleased to announce that Ayala Land and Ayala Corp., AIG (Philippines) Insurance, Asian Development Bank (courtesy of the Integrated Disaster Risk Management Fund financed by the government of Canada), Metro Drug, Zuellig Pharma and Robinsons Land Corp. are participating as sponsors of the megacities conference. I would like to give special thanks to Philippine Airlines, our airline partner, who will provide transportation for the scientists who will speak at the conference.

I hope other equally conscientious major companies in the real estate and insurance business will see the value of their participation in this effort to their business and public perception and respond to our request for support.

We also welcome the participation of urban and environmental planners, qualified architects and structural engineers. Please do not hesitate to inform us if you are interested by emailing

For those who have not responded to our request, please note that our conference is on April 25. We welcome your participation and support.

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