Lessons from Cotabato’s Earthquake
PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero-Ballescas (The Freeman) - November 9, 2019 - 12:00am

Disasters strike unexpectedly but definitely with dangerous, destructive, and even deadly consequences. The series of strong earthquakes in Mindanao attest to the urgency of effective disaster preparation, risk reduction, and management.

Termed as earthquake swarm, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake was reported last October 16, 2019, with epicenter 22 kilometers southeast of Tulunan, Cotabato. The Intensity 7 earthquake also reached M'lang and Kidapawan and Intensity 6 affected Tacurong, Santo Niño in South Cotabato, and Digos in Davao del Sur. Malls, buildings, houses, schools, health facilities and places of worship were damaged. A fire triggered by the earthquake was also reported. Seven people were killed, 215 people injured, about 7,303 families (35,481 persons) affected. Many families are still seeking shelter in evacuation centers while others are still displaced outside the centers.

On Tuesday, 29 October, Tulunan experienced two earthquakes, the first at 6.6 magnitude and a second significant earthquake recorded at 6.1 magnitude. Fire, power outages, deaths, injured, suspended classes, among others, were reported. Trauma, fatigue, hunger, homelessness, and more were observed.

On October 31, another earthquake with 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck 33 kilometers northeast of Tulunan. More damage was reported as well as rising death toll and injuries, missing persons, more psychosocial interventions requested as more aftershocks rocked the areas. In Makilala, Cotabato, affected residents begged along the highways for rice and tents.

Sadly, the earthquake drama in Cotabato and other areas in Mindanao is still continuing and quick assistance and prayers badly needed.

Promptly, let us also learn from that recent disaster and effectively respond.

First, we need to anticipate and prepare for different types of disasters. Beyond fires, typhoons, earthquakes, we now know we have to prepare for earthquake swarms, just as super typhoon Yolanda taught us about storm surge.

We also need to have evidence-based knowledge and prepare for simultaneous and different types of disasters taking place at the same time, in the same location.

We need to prepare for worst-case scenarios with different contingency plans for necessary backup and support. Local and global experiences and practices can serve as useful reference.

The Cotabato experience showed us the importance of preparing evacuation sites --several, not just a few-- across various locations in case some identified evacuation centers are rendered dangerous or destroyed by disasters.

Evacuation centers also need to have ample, sustainable basic items ready always! These include sustainable and sanitary drinking water, food, toilets, tents, blankets, age- and gender-necessary items, among others.

Coordination and communication among contingent local government units is also key. Prior to any disaster, all have to know what tasks to do, what resources to prepare for, committed persons assigned to their jobs, where, and most importantly, in a coordinated, systematic, effectively tested approach.

Response time is crucial. Simulation of response time need to be done or should already have been done. The Cotabato earthquake, however, showed how slow, how unprepared local and national government still are in responding to disasters.

A very obvious lesson learned from the recent Cotabato earthquakes is how late, how slow, how unprepared our system is for disaster risk reduction and management.

Continuing to be late, to be unprepared, however is not an option anymore. Quezon Province experienced a big earthquake after Cotabato. With so much movement of the earth, all have to join together to prepare effectively, quickly for any further disaster, God forbid.

With the present climate emergency, we should all prepare now, soonest possible, to effectively respond to forthcoming and more disasters to come. We need to act and carefully watch out how positively or negatively we are individually or together, contributing to or averting the climate emergency.

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