After #OdettePH, crisis expert urges government to prioritize disaster resilience

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 25 2021 10:44 PM

Photo of the destruction left by Typhoon Odette in San Vicente, Palawan during a visit by Vice President Leni Robredo on December 22, 2021. OVP handout
Photo of the destruction left by Typhoon Odette in San Vicente, Palawan during a visit by Vice President Leni Robredo on December 22, 2021. OVP handout

MANILA - The Philippine government should invest more in disaster resilience, a survivalist said on Saturday, after the country suffered massive devastation anew due to last week's Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai).

Dr. Ted Esguerra, an emergency manager at the Energy Development Corporation, said power and communication facilities should be calamity-proof, noting that the country experiences several earthquakes and typhoons annually.

"With all these lessons, let us not settle on just recovering. Let us settle on resilient recovery, when we have to strengthen more than the strength that we have before... This is where the government should invest," Esguerra told ANC.

Esguerra said he was shocked upon witnessing the destroyed facilities and infrastructure in Siargao, Surigao Del Norte where Typhoon Odette made its first of 9 landfalls from Dec. 16.

"The evacuation center... it's ripped off. The police station, ripped off. Bureau of Fire Protection, ripped off. Everything, as in, it's really like a mayhem," he said.

Evacuation centers and government stations should also be "sturdy," he said, lamenting that these were devastated by Typhoon Odette based on what he saw when he responded to the situation in Siargao. 

"There are things that have to be sturdy... I cannot accept that evacuation centers are ripped off," he said.

"I start to question: Is there a building code? What is this?"

Esguerra recalled that after the 2013 super typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan), the Philippines "augmented and escalated" its storm detection capabilities.

"We are supposed to strengthen our utilities and facilities. When I say utilities, these are power, telecommunications, water, garbage disposal, transport," he said.

But these were not able to withstand the wrath of Odette, leaving affected areas uncontactable and without power that partly also cut water supply.

"We have to be sturdy first," Esguerra stressed.

"Japan, they are vulnerable, but their capacity is high. Philippines, yes, from year 2000 until 2020, my country is we are Top 1 to Top 12; I think we are Top 2 or Top 3 right now. Now, the... is our capacity," he said.

In a separate interview, Elaine Bayer, an owner of local surf company Surfista Siargao, said they are currently in immediate need of clean water, food, and shelter. 

"Amoebiasis cases are running high, and I have heard that people have died of dehydration especially children... Shelter, it's raining a lot and you can get sick if you are always wet," Bayer said.

In terms of whether the island was prepared for a super typhoon, Bayer admitted that they were not, as many houses and establishments there are made of nipa and wood. 

"I think the tourism industry, we are not prepared for it. If ever, there were preparations for tsunamis... But in terms of a super typhoon or in terms of destruction caused by wind, I think we were not prepared... The things that were left standing are made of cement... Solar electricity is still not used there," Bayer shared. 

"Hopefully, this will be something that we will learn as a community of Siargao for when we rebuild and get things back in place," she added.

As of Dec. 25, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said 367 individuals have reportedly died during the storm, which affected nearly a million families or over 3 million individuals in Southern Luzon and the country's central and south regions.

More than 371,000 houses, estimated to cost over P29.2 million, were damaged. Close to P4 billion worth of infrastructure were also destroyed.

The NDRRMC said 269 cities and municipalities experienced power outage or interruption, although services in 150 have already been restored. Water supply was cut in four areas, although one had the service back already.

Up to 371 localities also suffered telecommunication service interruptions, but lines have so far been restored in 114 of those.

Earlier this week, presidential aspirant Panfilo Lacson, who headed the government's response for Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, described the Duterte administration's efforts to Odette as "disorganized."

Lacson said the NDRRMC and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) should already share the post-disaster needs assessment so agencies would know where the hardest-hit areas are and what assistance could be provided. 

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this week placed 6 regions under a state of calamity. This imposes an automatic price freeze on basic goods, allows local governments to tap calamity funds, and facilitates foreign aid for recovery efforts. 

On Thursday, he apologized for delays in assistance for the victims of Odette. 

The President had vowed to skip the holidays to help the severely affected population.

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