UP disaster scientist wins top European geosciences award

Voltaire Tupaz
UP disaster scientist wins top European geosciences award
(UPDATED) Europe’s premier geosciences union recognizes Dr Alfredo Mahar Lagmay for his outstanding work on volcanic hazards, earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, and floods

MANILA, Philippines  (UPDATED) – Europe’s premier geosciences union awarded its Plinius Medal to one of the Philippine’s leading disaster experts on Wednesday, April 15, in Vienna, Austria. 

Dr Alfredo Mahar Lagmay has been cited for his “outstanding interdisciplinary natural-hazard research and natural-disaster engagement in the Philippines, particularly with respect to volcanic hazards, earthquakes, typhoons, landslides and floods,” the European Geosciences Union (EGU) said.

He heads the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH), a project that combines science and technology for disaster risk reduction and management. (READ: Project NOAH: Advocating a culture of safety)

“It is a reassurance that the science we do in DOST-Project NOAH is of international standard, and considered an example of best practice in disaster risk reduction (DRR),” Lagmay told Rappler. 

According to Lagmay, as part of the award, he delivered a lecture on Thursday, April 16, in Austria on the DOST-Project NOAH’s high-resolution hazards mapping project.

Named after the Roman author Gaius Plinius Secundus, who penned the encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia (Natural History), the award cites interdisciplinary natural hazard research.

STORM SURGE MODELS. Lagmay recently published 'Typhoons: Storm-surge models helped for Hagupit' on the international journal of science Nature. The surge forecast helped vulnerable coastal areas, like Daram town in Samar, survive deadly storm surges in December 2014. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz

Life-saving studies

EGU recognized the Filipino scientist’s body of work it considered helpful in saving lives and property, including his studies on geohazards, flood risks, and storm surges. Lagmay teaches at the National Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines (UP), which gave him the Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award in Disaster Mitigation in 2014. 

Lagmay, who holds a PhD in geology from the University of Cambridge, has provided analysis on major disasters in the country including the Guinsaugon landslide, the Mt Mayon eruptions, and typhoons Ondoy (Ketsana), Sendong (Washi), Pablo (Bopha), and Yolanda (Haiyan). 

He recently co-authored “Typhoons: Storm-surge models helped for Hagupit,” which was  recently published in the international journal Nature. The contribution discussed how the Philippine government learned from the mistakes of Typhoon Yolanda, limiting the damage caused by succeeding disasters, particularly Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit).

“The inspiration for this correspondence in Nature is (the story) about Daram,” Lagmay earlier told Rappler. (READ: How a small Samar town survived deadly storm surges).

Daram is a coastal town in Samar which successfully weathered Typhoon Ruby through organized response and timely early warning information provided by NOAH and state weather bureau PAGASA. 

No amount of science will work in disaster risk reduction if people do not embrace it.

– Dr Alfredo Mahar Lagmay, Project NOAH Executive Director

Embrace science 

Lagmay noted the application of scientific knowledge represents only a small part in disaster mitigation efforts.

“The bigger part is about education to change the mindset of Filipinos to take seriously hazards information they are given,” he said.

Lagmay said effective hazards prevention and mitigation is about preparing long before a disaster strikes. 

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



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