Saving more lives
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2017 - 4:00pm

It is very unfortunate and saddening when precious lives are lost, especially if their deaths could have been prevented. But such introspection of “what if’s” is a useless exercise after hundreds of lives have already perished, had only this or that thing were done or not done. We always refer to such tragic experiences as lessons learned.

But when are we going to really learn from these fatal lessons?

For the past two weeks, strong typhoons brought one after the other by “Urduja” and “Vinta” caused flashfloods and landslides that killed a combined total of more than 200 people.

What happened to the disaster reduction project called NOAH? The Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards, or more popularly called as Project NOAH, for short, has been missing in action.

The Project NOAH used to be the Philippines’ primary disaster risk reduction and management program. It was initially administered by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) from 2012 until January 2017 when Project NOAH was downsized and is now managed by the University of the Philippines (UP). 

As envisioned, Project NOAH was implemented as a more accurate, integrated, and responsive disaster prevention and mitigation system, especially in high-risk areas across the country. The Project NOAH harnessed technologies and management services for disaster risk reduction activities offered by the DOST under its attached agencies from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA); (Phivolcs); and the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), in partnership with the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences and the UP College of Engineering. All of which were operating under the direction of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC)

Filipinos first came to know the phenomenon called “storm surge” following the aftermath of super typhoon “Yolanda” (with international name Haiyan) in 2013 that killed an estimated 6,340 people, including those who remained missing up to now).

The Project NOAH came up with a “storm surge warning system.” It identifies the parts of a community which could be reached by “storm surge” during typhoons. It provided advisories to specific coastal communities depending on the predicted height of storm surges in affected localities, which will be among the basis for evacuation of local government units (LGUs).

From the Official Gazette website, Project NOAH listed the following components:

• Distribution of Hydrometeorological Devices in hard-hit areas in the Philippines (Hydromet). A total of 600 automated rain gauges (ARG) and 400 water level monitoring stations (WLMS) were supposed to be installed along the country’s 18 major river basins (RBs) by December 2013 to provide a better picture of the country’s surface water in relation to flooding;

• Disaster Risk Exposure Assessment for Mitigation – Light Detection and Ranging (DREAM-LIDAR) Project. The project, which was slated for completion also by December 2013, aims to produce more accurate flood inundation and hazard maps in 3D for the country’s flood-prone and major river systems and watersheds.

• Enhancing Geohazards Mapping through LIDAR. The project, which was targeted to be completed by December 2014, will use LIDAR technology and computer-assisted analyses to identify exact areas prone to landslides.

• Coastal Hazards and Storm Surge Assessment and Mitigation (CHASSAM) which was targeted to be completed by December 2014, generates wave surge, wave refraction, and coastal circulation models to understand and recommend solutions for coastal erosion.

• Flood Information Network (FloodNET) Project. Targeted to be completed also by December 2013 is a flood center that provides timely and accurate information for flood early warning systems.

• Local Development of Doppler Radar Systems (LaDDeRS) that seek to develop local capacity to design, fabricate, and operate sub-systems of Doppler radars for remotely sensing the dynamic parameters of sea surface such as wave, wind field, and surface current velocity.

• Landslide Sensors Development Project. This project is a low-cost, locally developed, sensor-based early monitoring and warning system for landslides, slope failures, and debris flow.

• Weather Hazard Information Project (WHIP) involves the utilization of platforms such as television (DOSTv) and a web portal (http://noah.dost.gov.ph), which display real-time satellite, Doppler radar, data to empower LGUs and communities to prepare against extreme natural hazards.

But after putting all of these components together, the Project NOAH was unceremoniously taken out from the umbrella of the NDRRMC a few months after the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte took office.

On Jan. 29 this year, Mahar Lagmay, the executive director of Project NOAH, announced the government will scrap the program due to “lack of funds” for it.

The last component completed before the end of its DOST-administered era was the Integrated Scenario-based Assessment of Impacts and Hazards (ISAIAH). This sought to translate in plain language the hazards mapped by the project into municipal-level risk assessments that detail the level of exposure and vulnerability of a community.

On June 20 this year, UP re-launched the UP Resilience Institute with Project NOAH, now called NOAH Center in UP Diliman in Quezon City, as its flagship program. Without enabling support from the national government, the NOAH Center now run by UP can only do so much. But if given full support like a bigger budget allocation, much can be done to aim for “zero casualty.”

LGU executives like former Albay Governor and now Congressman Joey Salceda had shown “zero casualty” can be achieved through the  “forced evacuation” policy he implemented with the aid of early warning systems from Project NOAH.

Himself a former Mayor of Davao City, President Duterte knows how more pro-active responses in times of natural calamities and man-made disasters could save more lives.

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