AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2020 - 12:00am

Nothing and no one can beat nature’s wrath. When a lockdown is declared everyone must follow and that’s that!

In the past two weeks, government implemented a 14-kilometer danger zone lockdown to 14 towns in Batangas. An estimate of 39,811 families (or 147,873 people) have been affected by this lockdown. Many residents continue to complain about this move but when danger is looming, government rules.

This is why there is an urgent need for the approval of the Department of Disaster Resilience. It was already approved by Congress in 2017 but Senate has not made any move. What’s going on? We are in dire need of the creation of this department so that there is only one voice and one direction. As it is, the mayors of the different towns in Batangas have made different calls confusing many sectors and groups involved in helping the victims of the Taal eruption. National government is also playing tug-of-war with the local government. Sanamagan!

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) reported a total of more than 900 volcanic earthquakes in the past weeks.  Yesterday PHIVOLCS lowered the alert level from a 4 (hazardous eruption imminent) to Alert Level 3 (decreased tendency toward hazardous eruption). So despite the spews that we see coming out of the volcano, that has caused anxiety to most of us, the alert level has decreased. Abangan!

What got me most in this recent disaster is the management of the evacuation centers. The Department of Interior and Local Government must come up with strict standards to ensure the safety, security, health and well-being of all evacuees.

As Benjamin Franklin put it, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Here we go again with our spur of the moment decisions and perennial inconsistencies causing confusion, panic and a health crisis in the evacuation centers. We need a good and formidable template for evacuation and rehabilitation initiatives.

A team of experts from different sectors must meet and straighten things out. They must identify the participation of the national government, local government and community volunteers and donations needed. For instance, strategic plans should have already been laid out from the outset. Why identify evacuation centers only when the need arises? If these evacuation centers were pre-determined (to include an assessment of their size and capacity as well as available facilities), overcrowding could have been avoided. Furthermore, basic facilities such as comfort rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, dining areas, washing areas, clinics and mental health stations, and daycare sections could have been in place.

A pre-determined evacuation center ensures the consideration of maintaining the demographics of the population. The sufficient amount of relief goods could easily be determined. A consolidated population can facilitate an easier system of monitoring for the protection of the evacuees. As it is everything is topsy-turvy.

As policy makers and implementers government should adopt a consistent and well-established criterion for partial and total lockdowns, mandatory and voluntary evacuation, closure of commercial establishments, official and final list of barangays in danger zones, etc. The roles and responsibilities of barangay officials should be clearly spelled out when executing the evacuation plan. An organized and coordinated system for relief good distribution should be in place for fair and equitable use of resources. Roles of the various agencies should not overlap to avoid duplication of services. Mapping of government and non-government organizations’ coverage areas ensures that no one is left behind.

By the way, in the past disasters such as the one caused by Typhoon Yolanda and the Siege of Marawi, evacuees still continue to live in temporary shelters. Susmariosep!

Efforts to rehabilitate the areas are moving very slow. Taskforces have been created to oversee rehabilitation and recovery efforts – Task Force Mt. Pinatubo, Inter-Agency Task Force Yolanda, Task Force Bangon Marawi among others. For Taal, there are calls for a bill to create a Taal Commission. Shouldn’t the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience be the priority to put a stop to the creation of the numerous task forces in the land? Having too many taskforces can just be a nuisance to government wanting efficiency and excellent standards. The creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) would institutionalize disaster management and put in place permanent mechanisms and a master plan for our disaster-prone country.

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Another very disturbing news is the attack of the Coronavirus. Wuhan province in China is the epicenter of the virus. A major lockdown was imposed on an estimated 56 million population. Airline travel, trains, ferryboats, public and private transportation have been suspended, people are instructed to stay home and limit their activities. Hospitals are on heightened alert. Hotels and tourists are forced to follow protocols. Universities and schools may extend their Chinese New Year holiday. The streets in Wuhan are empty. The public is fearful and is warned that the virus is very severe and spreads very fast.

As of press time, Chinese authorities reported a leapt in the number of Wuhan virus cases to more than 800, with 42 dead, 177 in serious condition and another 1,072 suspected cases. Over-all as of January 25, China was reported to have 1,300 cases, including 2 in Macau and 5 in Hong Kong; France has 3, Japan 2, Australia 1, Malaysia 3, Nepal 1, Singapore 3, South Korea 3, Taiwan 3, Thailand 4, United States 2 and Vietnam 2.

China is in panic mode. President Xi has taken the matter to serious heights even approving the immediate construction of hospitals to accommodate the number of patients coming in by the minute. Disneyland has closed. Everyone is wearing face masks while public officials are wearing anti-virus suits and gears.

The Wuhan Coronavirus known as 2019-nCoV or the Novel Coronavirus is highly infectious. The first known case was identified in Wuhan China in December 2019. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and in severe cases, pneumonia, kidney failure and death.

In order to prevent the spread of this virus and other airborne viruses for that matter, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water, use alcohol or hand sanitizer, use a facial mask, avoid close contact with sick people, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with dirty hands, constantly clean and sanitize your environment.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

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