Disaster Consciousness Month

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - July 24, 2008 - 12:00am

Last week, strong rains in Metro Manila brought by typhoon Helen, caused floods that led to heavy traffic, with thousands of students and workers stranded in the streets. On the other hand, the Visayas region and some parts of Mindanao have barely recovered from the widespread damage caused by typhoon Frank. We commend the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) which has so far distributed thorough and detailed reports on the damage to property and death caused by the worst typhoon to hit the country this year. Certain municipalities in Iloilo and Aklan were the worst hit in terms of the number of persons and families affected, followed by the provinces of Leyte and Samar and the Maguindanao Province. The report provides a comprehensive guide for local and foreign humanitarian organizations and philanthropists who want to provide assistance to hasten the rehabilitation of the affected communities.

In the wake of the current food crisis and rising food costs, it bothers me that the total estimated costs of damages to crops, livestock and fisheries alone reached P4.6 billion, mostly in the Central Luzon provinces, Central Visayas and the ARMM. Damage to agricultural infrastructure and irrigation facilities reached P2.9 billion. On the other hand, school buildings, which at present stand insufficient for public school children nationwide, sustained damages amounting to almost P1 billion. And because more than 500,000 families and 2.4 million individuals were displaced due to damaged and flooded houses, with some living in and outside evacuation centers, relief workers and health coordinators should guard against the outbreak of disease, especially diarrhea, due to lack of clean water as well as upper respiratory diseases. More attention should be given to the remote barrios and towns that were devastated but which  are not reached by aid and rehabilitation efforts.

Recently also, we have experienced minor earthquakes in Metro Manila and the Luzon area. We must remember that the Philippine archipelago lies along the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activities are common. Phivolcs has reported that an average of 20 earthquakes occur per day but only a few are felt. Before the war, Manila was often subject to strong earthquakes, but lately, we are lucky that we have not experienced these. Thank God, last week’s prediction that a massive earthquake will hit Metro Manila did not happen, but this should not make us less alert. The last huge earthquake happened in the North-Central Luzon on July 16, 1990. In one of the deadliest and costliest natural disasters in the Philippines, damage was wrought in an area of about 20,000 square kilometers, from northwest of Manila through the Central Luzon and into the mountains of the Cordillera Administrative Region. About 1,600 people were killed, mostly in the Central Luzon and Cordillera region.

It is good to know that local government leaders and scientists led by Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) head, Renato Solidum, are pushing for the establishment of community-based teams to respond immediately to disasters caused by calamities under an umbrella project called “Project Ready”. Five agencies are working together to train communities and local government leaders and we hope the trainees will take this seriously. The training program covers topics such as map appreciation, results of the hazards mapping on storm surge, ground rupture, ground shaking, landslides caused by strong rains and earthquakes, liquefaction and tsunami, early warning systems for flood and tsunami and disaster management and contingency planning.

Every citizen can contribute in disaster preparedness. Now that we are observing National Disaster Consciousness Month, let us not only be vigilant within our homes but also in our communities by finding out where we can contribute our small efforts and resources. As we prepare for the worst, let us hope for the best!

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