Dealing with Disaster

Jet Damazo-Santos
Preparedness is the best answer

(Editor’s Note: This story was first published by Newsbreak.)

No one would probably argue with the assertion that the Philippines is extremely disaster-prone, whether it be man-made or nature-given. The numerous disasters of the past decade—from fires to trash slides to earthquakes—attest to this.

No one would probably dispute the claim too that we are ill-equipped to deal with all these disasters we know are coming our way. Again, the amount of casualties from disasters that occurred this past decade is proof.

It is easy to point fingers and simply blame government for much of what we have suffered, but the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the agency in charge of disaster management in the country, says that disaster prevention and reduction is everyone’s responsibility.

To highlight the role of local governments, private institutions, and individuals in this task, the NDCC has annually recognized since 1996 the few who serve as examples to the rest of the country in terms of disaster management.

Last year, Marikina City was cited as a model for city governments, Albay as the model for provinces, and Isulan in Sultan Kudarat as the model for municipalities for disaster preparedness and management.

Marikina

Marikina is one of the most disaster-prone cities in the country. Known as the river city, Marikina used to be one of the places that quickly went under water during typhoons. Having medium dense sand or firm clay for soil and sitting on a fault line, it is classified by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as a high earthquake risk zone. Being a valley, it is also one of the most landslide-prone areas in Metro Manila.

So as they put it, “we have no choice but to be prepared.”

The Marikina Disaster Coordinating Council was reactivated by Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Bayani Fernando, when he first became mayor of Marikina in 1992.

Under Fernando, they addressed all possible disaster scenarios at three levels: pre-disaster, disaster, and post-disaster. Among the three, pre-disaster is given most emphasis.

To lessen the flooded areas, which constitute about 20 percent of the entire city, they cleaned the Marikina River—their biggest drainage system—and completed more than 90 kilometers of a major flood control drainage system. To date, 95 percent of the flood problem in Marikina has been solved.

Fernando also cleared the streets and sidewalks to make transportation easier and faster. With this, he was able to effectively implement his “Five-Minute Quick Response Time” rescue operation, which provides medical, fire, and police assistance to residents of Marikina. Rescuers claim that their response time is now even down to just 3.6 minutes, far better than America’s Rescue 911.

In case of events beyond their control, say, an earthquake, more than 700 possible evacuation centers have been identified and three public safety centers which house their police department, fire department, and Rescue 161 have been created. They even have a complete set of cooking equipment to prepare meals for 10,000 persons in a span of two hours.

The city government has also set aside P20 million per year to fund this program.

Similar to Marikina, Albay—being the home of the world-famous Mayon volcano, which happens to be the most active volcano in the country—is a disaster-prone area. In fact, its provincial disaster coordinating council has been active for the past 10 years. It is the only one in the country that has institutionalized a provincial public safety and emergency management office, with regular staff and annual budget allocations.

The provincial government proved its preparedness when Mayon erupted in 2000 and 2001.

In January 9 of last year, when Mayon began exhibiting abnormal volcanic activity, the local government lifted the alert status from zero to two. Immediately, a six-kilometer permanent danger zone was strictly enforced, concerned disaster coordinating councils were reactivated, and emergency requirements were readied.

Two weeks later, the alert status was raised to three, already deemed critical level, and inventories of farming and nonfarming population were conducted. By June 23, alert level four was raised—meaning, eruption was imminent and the population within an eight-kilometer radius needed to be immediately evacuated.

Three days later, Mayon erupted and quieted again soon after that. The more than 46,000 evacuees were slowly allowed to return to their homes.

In both the eruptions of 2000 and 2001, the provincial government’s goal of zero casualty was met.

Isulan

Among all the municipalities in the country, a small one tucked down south in Mindanao serves as the model for disaster mitigation and preparedness.

Isulan, the capital of Sultan Kudarat, was recognized by the NDCC for exemplifying self-reliance and self-help. When the rest of the country merely cried out to the national government for help, Isulan residents, on their own initiative and through local funding, tried to control flooding by dredging the Lamintao River and planting bamboo trees along Banbada River.

Under the leadership of Municipal Mayor Ernesto Matias, they were able to effectively respond to tornado and flood victims without relying on assistance from the national government. Aside from providing assorted food supplies and financial assistance for food, they constructed two temporary bridges and were immediately able to repair damaged roads and houses.

These local governments are really worth emulating, but they don’t really have big secrets behind their success. As Matias put it, “Preparedness in times of calamities through the effective use of manpower and financial resources, proper information and coordination, citizen’s cooperation and alertness, and timely and good judgment of the officials concerned is the best answer in times of disaster.” – Rappler.com