EDITORIAL – Disaster preparedness caught unprepared

The Freeman

It is no longer surprising that rivers will be bursting their banks more often. For years now, climatologists have warned of changing weather patterns brought on by climate change. Storms will be stronger, the rains heavier. As a result, floods will become a more common occurence in more places than they used to be, say, 10 to 20 years ago.

What was surprising in the flashfloods that hit many areas in Metro CebuTuesday following heavy afternoon rains was the number of people who got swept away by the rampaging waters. What made it surprising was the fact that many of the victims belonged to those pocket communities that have made the undersides of bridges and riverbanks as their homes.

If one were to exclaim "You mean there are people still living there?" that would have been a very valid comment on the state of disaster preparedness that the government has implemented with so much hooplah. But as Tuesday's incidents have borne out, all of those disaster preparedness initiatives could precisely be just what they were -- so much hooplah.

There is no perfect preparation for anything. The best initiatives in the world by even the most prepared countries in the world will never be able to ensure a hundred percent cover against human tragedy. But it is in the proportions that dismay people in what the government had been doing. A few unfortunate victims here and there are to be expected in any wake of nature's anguished tantrums.

But when the victim count is measured by the scores and dozens, especially if they involve very young children who should have long been out of harm's way as a matter of priority, the narratives about what happened can truly be sickening. So what were all those disaster preparedness initiatives for, especially since all those initiatives came with very huge special budgets for relocation, training and equipment.

Communities that have, for quite some time already, gotten used to all the hooplah about disaster preparedness should no longer be communities that get rudely awakened by news of people living under bridges and on banks of rivers getting swept away by rampaging floodwaters. They are no longer supposed to be there, remember? Rivers, creeks, canals and other natural waterways are all supposed to be danger zones free of human habitation by now.

Or have we all been simply lured into a false sense of security by all that government activity about disaster preparedness? If all that disaster preparedness had merely been for show, as a justification for all the special funding that gave it course, what then is the community to do? More specifically, what lifelines are really available for those who live on the fringes and are most vulnerable to the elements?

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