MANILA, Philippines – Disaster responders are coming to the rescue of Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH) or Project NOAH, the government’s flagship platform for natural disaster information, which is under threat of being phased out.
As news that Project NOAH is facing shutdown by March spread on Sunday, January 29, rescuers and disaster risk reduction (DRR) advocates urged President Rodrigo Duterte to save the initiative under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). (READ: Gov’t to stop Project NOAH due to ‘lack of funds’)
“I ask you to rally with me to retain this program in the government as it benefited all of us in (terms of) the science of knowing (about the) hazards affecting our communities,” Dr Ted Esguerra, founder of the Wilderness Search and Rescue Philippines, Inc (WISAR), said in a Facebook post.
“Let us pray that the good President Rody Duterte will check on this matter,” Esguerra said.
On Monday afternoon, the DOST issued a statement, saying Project NOAH had reached its “project end date” and should now be turned over to the weather bureau PAGASA “for adoption and use.”
Local governments defend Project NOAH
Local disaster risk reduction managers and advocates echoed Esguerra’s call, arguing that Project NOAH had provided them with critical information that helped in warning residents of risks.
In Northern Mindanao and Caraga, where various areas were recently swamped by floods due to the tail-end of a cold front, Project NOAH served as a guide for preparedness and response efforts.
“It is very useful to us in Malaybalay City and Bukidnon province. It [gives] us advance warning in our area of responsibility so we can prepare ahead of time [to achieve] zero casualty. If this one will be dissolved, we will be blind in our disaster preparedness program,” according to Alan Julaily Comiso, an officer of the Malaybalay City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO).
Former Butuan City Public Information Office (PIO) head Jenny Michelle Mix is hopeful that President Duterte will save NOAH if the project needs more funding.
“This is sad news because we always use it here in Butuan and Caraga. We’ve been experiencing flooding here for nearly two weeks already,” Mix said.
The local government unit has been relying on Project NOAH’s Doppler radars and automated rain gauges to prepare for flooding, she added.
In Tuguegarao City, the platform has helped disaster managers achieve “zero casualty” after 3 major typhoons, including Typhoon Lawin (Haima).
“With the help of Project NOAH, we are updated with the water level not just in our city but also in upstream areas,” Angelo Suyu of the Tuguegarao City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said.
The same technology made geology student RL Abanza more confident in sharing weather-related information on social media. “One of the great features of the system is that they provide real-time rainfall contour maps together with near real-time Doppler images, which are of big help in the planning of our travels and in disseminating critical disaster information,” Abanza said in a blog post on X.
“My weather-related posts are of considerable accuracy thanks to the data from the Project NOAH website,” he said.
NOAH undertakes disaster science research and development, use cutting edge technologies, and recommend information services for the government’s disaster prevention and mitigation efforts.
“They may have bits and pieces of what we have in NOAH, but in terms of the holistic approach, we address the problem of warning which needs to be accurate, reliable, understandable, and timely,” Dr Alfredo Mahar Lagmay, executive director of Project NOAH, told Rappler in an earlier interview.
“We’re also looking at the element of getting the communities to make the appropriate response, and that element is very important to match the warning because if the response is inappropriate, it may lead to loss of lives,” Lagmay added.
Since it was introduced in 2012, the risks of at least 13 severe hazard events, including Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) in 2014, have been reduced with the help of Project NOAH. (READ: How a small Samar town survived deadly storm surges).
“Events like the rise in water level of a river by as much as 10 meters, and in many cases all over the Philippines, that happened but because of warnings given by NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) through information provided by Project NOAH with real-time technology such as the sensors, water level sensors, and satellite information, we were able to avert disasters,” Lagmay said.
‘Take care of scientists’
However, the future of the project is now unclear. On Sunday, Lagmay confirmed that Department of Science and Technology (DOST) officials informed his team that their request for extenstion would not be approved.
“We just made an appeal. But we lost 40 well-trained, skilled and experienced scientists,” Lagmay said in a text message.
“DOST must take care of its scientists. Human resources are more important than technology,” Lagman said.
According to Lagmay, this situation started during the Aquino administration, when mid-level officials of the DOST, who are still in government, told them there were no funds for the project.
The program was established in 2012 in response to former president Benigno Aquino III’s instructions to provide “a more accurate, integrated, and responsive disaster prevention and mitigation system, especially in high-risk areas” throughout the country.
Among other hazards, an average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, constantly threatening a developing economy and endangering millions of people living in vulnerable areas. – Rappler.com