Still unprepared for disasters and calamities
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - January 22, 2020 - 12:00am

It’s indeed a sad commentary, to say the least, that, after too many disasters, calamities and crises, we Filipinos have never learned the art and science of disaster preparedness.

The best evidence is the current state of disarray in more than 15 towns surrounding Taal Lake and Taal Volcano. I was there and saw with my own eyes the pitiful condition confronting more than half-a-million evacuees. If this state of chaos and uncertainty should continue for another four or eight weeks, I shudder at the thought of possible riots by angry and hungry mobs, and also the possibility of epidemics among the victims, and petty crimes in the evacuation centers. Government and NGOs are unprepared to handle the situation. Filipinos haven’t mastered the draconian challenges of managing disaster and calamity after all the centuries of such crises from Batanes to Tawi-tawi.

I fear that riots may erupt soon because food and water distribution may reach a critical stage when provisions would no longer be enough and there are too many evacuees staying in makeshift centers that are too hot at daytime and too cold at night. The people are getting restless, without enough sleep, and their impatience is getting the better of them. And these traumatized victims who are presently cramped together in crowded schoolhouses and multi-purpose halls and covered courts are reaching the boiling point, while the volunteers are also getting over-fatigued and becoming impatient too. There can be conflicts between the victims whose needs and demands are overwhelming, and the workers and volunteers whose capacity and capabilities are getting drained.

I also fear the outbreak of dysentery, cholera, and other gastro-intestinal diseases, as well as flu, and other related ailments. There are many children, senior citizens, and PWDs and there no facilities for their special needs. The clean water supply is running out. Toilets aren’t enough and are dirty. The state of sanitation is problematic and no one is focusing on prevention of diseases and contamination of the still-healthy ones by those brought to the evacuation centers with certain pre-existing health problems that are communicable and contagious. The people are all there, intermingling with all others, and the spaces are too limited, ventilation is bad, and the probability of contamination is high. There are no doctors, nurses, and health personnel in the evacuation centers.

There is no single barangay, town or city in the calamity-stricken areas that has a specially-designed, constructed, and dedicated evacuation center. They are using classrooms, basketball courts, gymnasiums, and chapels which don’t have adequate and correct facilities. Because most of the schoolhouses are being used, the education of children is interrupted. Classes cannot be held because there are simply no places to use as classrooms. The towns and provinces that have declared a state of calamity do not have the competence to plan, organize, and budget the resources. There are complaints that the distribution of relief goods is being done with partisan and political biases, favoring certain groups over others for political reasons.

I don’t know whether we are plainly incompetent to handle these tasks that we keep on repeating over and over each year, or if it is our distorted values and flawed culture and character that prevent us from learning to cope with such recurring crises, disasters, and calamities. I strongly suspect it is our behavior that is really ailing us.

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