We have man-made disasters not natural ones

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Tropical Depression Usman, which entered the Philippines on Christmas Day was said to be the second deadliest weather disaster for the country last year following Typhoon Mangkhut in September. It caused heavy flooding and landslide leaving 126 people dead, 26 missing and 74 injured (according to a Philippine Star report). It also brought damages to infrastructure and agriculture that reached P4.2 billion (according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council or NDRRMC).

What exactly worsened Usman’s death toll? According to disaster scientist and Project NOAH Director Mahar Lagmay, it was a wrong forecast, late warnings and a lack of hazard awareness that caused the situation. According to Lagmay the forecast on December 28 to 29, 2018, was moderate (light blue) to heavy (dark blue) rainfall in Bicol. But what happened was the rainfall was intense (yellow) to torrential (red), the latter being the highest amount of rainfall.

Lagmay added that there is a big difference, especially since moderate rainfall measures 2.5 to 7.5 mm/hr; heavy rainfall 7.5 to 15mm/hr; intense 15-30 mm/hr; and torrential 30 mm./hr. At that time in Bicol, the intense and torrential rainfalls lasted for several hours. He pointed out that the warnings from NDRRMC on December 28 and 29 also came late. The orange alert rainfall warning was sent at 8 pm on December 28, then a red alert at 11 pm, and another red alert at 5 am on December 29 for possible landslides and possible flooding. By this time, it was too late.

In the past, there had been measures taken to avert disasters. In the study “Lessons from tropical storms Urduja and Vinta disasters in the Philippines,” Project NOAH underscored the execution of Pre-Disaster Risk Management (PDRA) from 2014 to 2017 by the NDRRMC. These assessments prevented mass loss of lives in many severely-impacted areas because of hazard-specific, area-focused, and time-bound warnings.

The study also suggested that the PDRA must reinstate specific calls, where mayors of communities are informed by phone hours in advance of imminent danger, to prompt and ensure immediate action. The PDRA was institutionalized in June 2014 to provide risk analysis and constant monitoring of hydrometeorological hazards. These actions are supported by scientific information from PAGASA, Project NOAH, and the MGB. Unfortunately, Project NOAH was taken out of NDRRMC in mid-2017 before the 6 recent disasters happened. As a result, advisories became too broad and general.

People in Bicol may have thought that Usman would be low-impact after the state weather bureau raised storm signal number one. “Unfortunately, typhoon signal has nothing to do with rainfall amount because the signal numbers of PAGASA are based on wind strength,” Lagmay said.

He also emphasized the importance of hazard maps in providing important information to help people understand the risks of natural hazards and to help mitigate disasters. Hazard maps indicate the extent of expected risk areas, and can be combined with disaster management information such as evacuation sites, evacuation routes, and so forth. “People and the LGU (local government unit) find it hard to use or interpret a hazard map without the identified safe places,” he added. If safe places are identified, LGUs and the people can make the right decisions. This information cannot be found in the map of Mines and Geosciences Bureau but is covered by Project NOAH.

So, what do we do now? Do we just sit around and wait for another disaster to happen? This information is not new. We have been talking about this for quite sometime now. Yet, it seems that no one wants to listen. Or maybe no one wants to act on it because it would highlight the inefficiencies of the system. People are dying, properties are lost, families are buried in the ground and houses destroyed. These are disasters coming and going, year in and year out but to this day our leaders haven’t seem to have gotten the right formula to protect the people. Talk about governance. Susmariosep!

Dr. Lagmay’s record shows that on average, hydromet disasters happen once a year and at most twice per year. Now it’s 6 in the span of one year! He said, “It can’t be like this with us just waiting for the next disaster to happen. Something is wrong and it does not seem to be connected to Climate Change.”

Come to think of it. Are all these national disasters natural or man-made? Dr. Lagmay, in his scientific report titled, Lessons from Disasters in the Philippines, wrote: “There’s no such thing as a natural disaster because all disasters are caused by human error. All disasters are man-made; they are never natural. It is the people’s poor understanding on how to address hazards and failure to use appropriate science and technology as well as hazard mitigation plans that create disasters.”

Much of the responsibility for lowering disaster risk falls on LGUs. But we know how they are in the implementation of building codes and land planning. When the local government choose to ignore warnings on “no-build zones”, disaster is sure to happen. When LGUs allow the so-called the “rape” of the environment in mining, illegal logging, dynamite fishing; and construction of structures in “no-build zones” then the problem begins. And guess what? Government officials easily get away from such crimes. No one is penalized or jailed. Sanamagan!

There are many structures in “no-build zones” that need to be demolished to the deaf ears of owners and city officials. This is also why political dynasties thrive in the country – to protect their structures, their mines, their kingdoms. But this is another story. Abangan!

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For good vibes to start the new year, Pope Francis’ New Year’s Resolutions gives us a practical and reflective prayer to ponder on: “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are; take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love; take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy; be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence; heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others; look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord; be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people; watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation; take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker…the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.”

Let’s continue to work toward a renewed spirit. Our country is waiting!

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