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Opinion

Trying to save the world

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Aside from the technological connectivity that created a world virtually smaller for commerce, finance and knowledge, humanity is now bound by our common need and desire to survive natural calamities.

I recently had the privilege of attending the deliberations and manifestations of commitments of at least 190 countries through the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting of the United Nations (UN) at its headquarters in New York City.

Formally, and solemnly, leaders from all over the globe unequivocally expressed their political resolve to consistently and courageously pursue the measurable strategic objectives of the UN that promised to individually contribute in mitigating, preparing and recovering from the destructive impacts of disasters. It was very clear, based on the pronouncements, though delivered in different languages, that no country is exempted from the potential onslaught of disasters that can be caused by torrential rains, strong typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and even calamities initiated by men such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks.

Everyone needs everyone. Also clear is the mutual dependence which everyone humbly accepted. The reality is, almost no country can single-handedly perfectly manage a major calamity such as the recent earthquake in Turkiye and Syria that left at least 60,000 casualties and billions of dollars of properties destroyed almost instantly. More than 30 countries sent their humanitarian missions to assist the victims of this catastrophe.

And to think, Turkiye is not a poor country. It is a strategic member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Economically and militarily superior to most other countries. It’s even an envy in disaster preparedness. Yet, the results would prove that it’s almost impossible to fully avoid the destructive effects of calamities. Mitigation is the more doable goal. Hence, decreasing the number of casualties and damages to properties is the achievable target.

This was also shown in Fukushima when the devastating tsunami, caused by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake, unexpectedly destroyed a supposed indestructible Japanese engineering nuclear structure. Not less than 19,729 perished and thousands of homes and commercial establishments were washed out. The advanced engineering superiority of Japan couldn’t match the natural destructive force of the tidal waves that hit its shores on that fateful day.

Neighbors are needed for food, medical and manpower to assist the victims of calamities. On top of that, prior to the actual calamity itself, the sharing of systems on how to best prepare for such calamities is equally important.

During this recent UN collaboration, leaders have selflessly opened and shared their wealth of experiences that can be adopted and emulated by the other countries. The Philippines, a high-risk country due to the fact that we are visited by no less than 20 tropical cyclones yearly plus our regular earth-shakings, was considered a credible contributor to the efforts of establishing a common agenda in handling disasters better. No less than Her Excellency Mizutori Mami, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, commended our performance in concretely and diligently pursuing the mandated programs of the UN.

Governments need the indispensable partnership with civil society. While governments have the primary role of protecting their people from disasters, they need all the help possible from the private sector. The resources and network of governments will never be enough in handling the massive rescue mission and rehabilitation roll-out needed to bring the communities to their normal lives at the soonest time possible.

During the conference, I’m glad to have personally met Mr. Hans Sy, scion of the country’s top conglomerate, SM Group. I’ve seen his deep involvement in the seemingly tiring discussions of hundreds of leaders that were called upon by the noble duty of defining the best framework and international platforms of cooperation to reduce the risks being faced by everyone against natural hazards. Not all in the crowd had the slightest idea who Mr. Sy really is. He was very unassuming, humbly walking the corridors and quietly assuring us of his support when needed. Actually, he’s already leading an international organization, ARISE Philippines, that’s dedicated to the same noble goal.

For so many years, he’s been at the forefront of helping calamity victims, and preparing communities to mitigate the negative impacts of disasters. Alongside Mr. Sy was our mentor and respected cavalier, retired Admiral Alexander Pama, who once commanded the entire Philippine Navy and also headed the Office of Civil Defense. They both manage ARISE in its mission to strongly stand side by side with our government.

The world still has a long way to go in fully managing the grave consequences of disasters. The programs of the United Nations are the right steps forward in addressing them. Hopefully, everyone will contribute to the collective efforts no matter how small. After all, trying to save the world is also trying to save oneself, and the future generations.

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UNITED NATIONS

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