Anchor: Alvin Elchico
The Philippines is naturally one of the most accident prone countries in the world. Aside from technological tragedies, natural disasters pound the country including typhoons, monsoon rains, floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides. Likewise, the Center for Research and Epidemiology Disasters (CRED) claims that the Philippines holds the record of having the most number of recorded disasters in a country.
With an average of twenty typhoons that hit the country per year, weather disturbances should be treated with highest regard. But more than the meteorological disasters, resulting hydrological disasters such as floods and landslides devastate the islands more than anything else, leaving death tolls and destruction of properties.
ABS-CBN correspondent Alvin Elchico pushes for improved disaster preparedness and management measures for the country. His crusade started when he covered the news about Typhoon Yoyong that hit Aurora in 2004.
Alvin saw how the typhoon turned the area into mass graves. Rescue workers strived to salvage the remains buried in mud despite fearing the outbreak of diseases. Images of the destruction of lives and property left a mark in his mind, flabbergasted by the fact that he witnessed an event he never thought he hould see in real life.
While most natural disturbances can be predicted nowadays, there are still instances when even the most technologically-advanced stations cannot foresee when and how the disaster will strike.
In September 26, 2009, an estimated 300 people were killed in what is considered the “worst tropical typhoon depression” that hit the region. Ondoy, with international name Ketsana, brought immense volume of rainfall, flooding nine provinces including the National Capital Region.
According to Benito Ramos, Executive Officer of National Disaster Risk Management Council, the major catastrophe was caused by 445mm of rainfall in eight hours. It was compared to pouring a bucketful of water into a small sink with a constricted drainage. He admits that they were overwhelmed by the volume of rainfall and did not foresee the catastrophic event that took place.
Devastating floods centered on Marikina, Pasig, Antipolo, San Mateo, Cainta, Arayat and Laguna. The government sent rubber boats and 6x6 trucks unto the affected areas but were still insufficient, considering the number of people to be rescued from their homes.
Over P9 Billion worth of agriculture and infrastructures were destroyed by Ondoy. Electricity and water were shut off among the many affected provinces, worsening the state of the residents who were in dire need of the resources to survive. For some areas, it took weeks for the water to subside, for others, it took months.
One of the most dramatic footages caught on camera by ABS-CBN News during the height of Ondoy’s fury was that of Eric Boquiron and his family.
Recalling what happened two years ago, Eric said they were advised to leave beforehand, because the gateway of the dam near their house in Bagong Silangan village in Quezon City will be released. They knew of the impending flood but did not think it would reach their house. The following day, chest-deep floodwater entered their house and forced them to go up on the roof. But the rain did not cease.
He, his wife Maritess, and their two children (ages 3 and 6) were riding in an improvised raft built from iron roofing and water containers as they were swept away by the raging current in San Mateo, Rizal.
Eric struggled to hold on to his children as he tried to navigate the improvised craft, hoping to land safely. His plan was to throw his children where the onlookers and rescuers were waiting. Unfortunately, the crude raft bumped into the foot of the San Mateo Batasan bridge.
It was a tragic ending—his wife and children did not survive. He never found them. Eric says he learn his lesson the hard way, losing his family. He blames no one for his tragic loss.
Presently, Eric has already bounced back and works for his brother’s hardware store. While he is still seeking for a better life in his own, he has found a safer place to resettle into.
Twelve days of continuous rainfall brought fear to the residents of Naga and Legaspi City in Bicol just before New Year’s eve last year. There was heightened alarm due to impending floods. Highways were closed, preparing for possible landslides and other dreadful scenarios.
Fortunately, the Bicolanians were advised early. There had been a massive preemptive evacuation and fishermen were not allowed to sail. The centers were jampacked; but the occupants believe they were better off there than to have risked their and their children’s lives if they had not left their houses.
Governor Joey Salceda from the province of Albay says that the non-stop rains continued for twelve more days. Great floods were inevitable in their case.
A total of P736 million worth of agriculture and infrastructure were destroyed. Forty eight thousand families were affected.
Bicol is recorded to have experienced the most number of calamities in the country from typhoons, flashfloods and landslides. Because of this, a Disaster Risk Reduction Campaign is being implemented by their local government.
They regularly seek advice from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). When they receive a warning advisory from the said office, they organize a teleconference between them and PAGASA forecasters to know how strong the incoming storm is, if and when it will hit their province. Once they are positive, preemptive measures are strictly implemented.
Their objective is to have zero casualties despite the disasters that come their way. According to Governor Salceda, this principle brought them more tourists because their message for safety is clear.
In the previous calamity, he said only a few people died despite the severity of the destruction created by the typhoon. Among the few are Vicente Dapdap’s mother and sibling. He regrets not to have initiated their evacuation much sooner. Flashfloods got to them as they reached the middle of the spillway. His mother and sibling were swept away by the waters.
The 48-year-old Vicente welcomed the new year alone and with lifelong regrets.
Disaster Risk Reduction and Management
There are going to be more rains in most parts of the country this year due to the weather condition called “La Niña” which is associated with intense rainfall. Moreover, climate is expected to change because of the widespread effects of global warming. Positions of weather systems change due to the intense amount of heat.
People, nature and weather are all connected. Leo Jasareno, Director of Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), says that industrialization without taking the environment into consideration is a mistake. He asserts that the more roads are built, the less water is absorbed by the earth—the more water to be channeled into different areas.
Consequently, the problems lies in flood control. Director Jasareno says most of the water are directed in canals and rivers but will not flow properly due to the huge amount of debris and garbage that have accumulated for around 30-40 years. Draining the city in a short amount of time is not possible.
When Typhoon Ondoy hit NCR, it served as a wake up call for the government to enact Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010. Benito Ramos, Executive Officer of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, says that their aim is to become more pro-active than reactive. He accounts the steps to be taken for areas of concern: mitigation, preparation, response, relief, recovery, then development.
The council includes all government agencies, civil society organizations and private sectors.
As part of the said council, Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, explains their responsibilities for disaster management: relief operations and early recovery and rehabilitation, including stress debriefing.
Likewise, DENR is tasked to create geo hazard maps to be used by all members of the Risk Reduction Council to know the concentration of their operations in time for calamities especially in disaster-prone areas.
The Climate Information Monitoring and Prediction Center headed by Daisy Ortega is assigned to further enhance forecasts and spearhead education campaigns in the form of lectures. Additionally, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) bought new equipment and facilities for disaster management operations. They are holding workshops on how to build quality but affordable flood boats to be used in rescue operations. They also have People Empowerment programs that train workers and volunteers for rescue missions. They have trained 400 volunteers at present.
Despite all the preparations by various sectors, the government admits that there are still a lot of measures to be drafted and implemented to fully claim that the country is prepared for disasters.
Even with great power and resources, the government cannot shoulder every responsibility in disaster reduction, preparedness and management. Filipinos should also actively take part in the crusade. February 17, 2011
Photos by JV Noriega