Lessons from Bohol: Resilience is Key (Part 2)

Resilience is key to overcoming the challenges of disasters

In the first part of our think piece, we identified key elements of how we could respond as a nation to a disaster like the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu. In this second part, we turn to the people and how it is their resilience, which must be nurtured and supported, that is key to overcoming the challenges of disasters.

Indeed, the other component of vulnerability pertains to the capacity of the people themselves to absorb the impacts of the disaster, be it socio-economic, physical or psychological. How quickly they can bounce back and return to normalcy will be critical in the reconstruction stage.

Right now, many of the survivors are totally dependent on relief goods. In Brgy. Tultugan in the town of Calape, which lies in the boundary of the municipality with Loon, the arrival of assistance has been far and between. In other areas, survivors reportedly had to limit their ration to a spoonful of rice per person just so everyone will get his/her share.

Access to relief goods has been difficult in areas that had been cut off from the poblacion, where the distribution centers are normally located. Recently, the provincial government has started calling for the assistance of experienced mountaineers to help in the relief operations in mountainous areas.

For those in low-lying areas, many survivors live on roadsides and other open areas for fear of being trapped in what remained of their houses. The reconstruction of houses may take months, considering that many are engaged only in subsistence farming.

The impact of the disaster on the psychological well-being of the survivors must also be looked into. This early, some survivors have already reported having developed anxiety-related problems. With aftershocks occurring every now and then, psycho-social counselling services will be needed especially for the elderly and children.

What now?

When all the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—the earthquake could potentially end up as the most devastating and expensive disaster that Boholanos have ever experienced. As of this writing, the total cost of damage is estimated at a little over Php560 million, 97% of which is concentrated in Bohol. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has initially pegged the damage to roads and bridges alone to reach Php57.8 million. This does not include the cost of collapsed houses, historical churches and other structures. The value of over a hundred lives lost and scores more injured is another matter.

We can expect that the massive destruction of structures and infrastructure will take a heavy toll on the socio-economic growth of Bohol. Tourism, which has been booming since 2004, might take a dip over the long-run unless appropriate interventions are introduced (i.e. sustainable tourism). Agricultural productivity will also be significantly affected as communities try to stand back on their feet.

Social media and crowd-sourcing

Once again, as in previous disasters we have had, the social media provided the much-needed first-hand information on the ground. Just moments after the first tremor, we have been alerted of the destruction of churches, houses, roads and other structures especially in Bohol.

Yet by now, we should be moving beyond showing pictures and videos of what happened. We cannot be shell-shocked with the fallen churches and broken bridges, and reduced to a litany of OMGs and sympathetic nothings. We should be moving towards urgent action, and that is extending assistance to the affected people, which have since ballooned to more than 3.4 million.

Another area that was severely lacking in the immediate aftermath of the disaster was an open, one-stop online platform where survivors could relay their urgent messages for assistance. Historically, we have no problem with soliciting support from individuals and donor organizations; but we have had serious issues in the distribution of relief goods. There is an information gap with what we have as donations and what is urgently needed by the survivors. This directly affects a critical moment in disaster response, the so-called “golden hour,” where help must arrive in time to avert fatal consequences.

There have been disjointed efforts by the media and other civic-oriented groups to respond to this need, primarily through SMS services, but it could have helped if we have a centralized, integrated service where anyone could upload real-time information, either thru text or via web, from areas that are out of traditional media coverage and where urgent assistance is typically needed. An open, crowd-sourcing platform could benefit other actors who are already on the ground but may not have sufficient information to strategically plan their search, rescue and relief operations.

The potential of crowd-sourcing has been tested in previous flooding incidents (www.rescueph.com) but it has yet to gain significant traction and support from other actors like the media and government to be more effective.

Lesson for Metro Manila

The recent calamity in Bohol and Cebu should be an eye-opener for Metro Manila. The earthquake that struck the Visayan region is of the same magnitude that scientists have been expecting to hit the metropolis at any given time. A similar magnitude 7.2 earthquake originating from the West Valley Fault, which starts from the Sierra Madre and runs through Carmona in Cavite transecting Quezon City, Pasig, Taguig, Muntinlupa and some parts of Laguna, can lead to an unprecedented damage to the city and the country.

According to the Metropolitan Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS), a study spearheaded by Phivolcs and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2004, an earthquake of similar strength can damage up to 40% of the total number of residential buildings in Metro Manila and kill 34,000 persons. More than 100,000 people are also expected to get injured while an additional 18,000 may die from secondary fire.

In a more recent study by Phivolcs and the Australian Government, the Greater Manila Risk Analysis Project, it is estimated that such an earthquake could cause P2.4 trillion damage to buildings alone. The total number of injured is also expected to be much higher numbering at more than 600,000 persons.

The question now is: is Metro Manila ready for the Big One?

The answer could be mixed. The Ateneo de Manila University, which sits atop the fault line, has already made sure that campus buildings constructed in 2010 onwards can withstand strong ground shaking. Some local government units like Pasig, Makati and Quezon City have also fortified their readiness by tapping the assistance of experts like the Earthquakes and Megacities Initiative (EMI), an international, scientific NGO based in the Philippines. There are also ongoing activities in Muntinlupa and in other areas. Yet even in these cities, there is a big concern on the vulnerability of certain sectors such as the informal settlers and household-level preparedness in general.

Towards a more resilient future

We should not despair with what has happened to Bohol. Disasters always have two faces: behind the crisis that it brings is an opportunity to improve.

The Bohol earthquake will give us the chance to build back better. This means better houses, churches, hospitals, schools, bridges, roads and other structures that can withstand not only the wrath of earthquakes but also the challenges of a changing climate.

A good example of a previously battered church is the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Milan, Italy. It was destroyed by bombs at the height of World War II, with only some walls remaining including the one that holds Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The church has since been restored and is now one of Milan’s famous attraction sites.

The reconstruction phase will give us the chance to fast-track traditional efforts to reduce socio-economic vulnerability and at the same introduce innovative social protection mechanisms. According to Dr. Jerry Velasquez, Chief of Advocacy and Outreach at the UN-Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN-ISDR), specific measures can include expanding supplementary incomes or in-kind transfer programmes, food-for-work programmes, rural employment guarantee schemes and labor-intensive public works programmes for those people who were most affected by the disaster.

In the larger scheme of things, recovery from the disaster will help Bohol to realign its development trajectory in a manner that is more resilient, inclusive and sustainable than how it was before the tragedy. It is also a golden time to improve social demand for disaster risk reduction, especially exposure reduction which can be less costly than reducing vulnerabilities in the long-run.

In all these, the silver lining lies in how we are able to absorb the lessons from our individual and collective mistakes in planning our development with wanton disregard of Earth’s natural processes. No longer should we just idly accept our fate in the name of progress, and wait for our houses and churches to fall upon us.

From here on, the onus rests on the shoulders of our political leadership—from Pres. P-Noy to Gov. Edgar Chatto, all the way down to Bohol’s local leaders. It is up to them whether to rebuild the status quo or heed the wise words of Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda of Albay Province, one of UN-ISDR’s local champions for disaster risk reduction, to wit:

“[The] people have the basic right to the capacity to adapt; relief, recovery and rehabilitation are essentially compensation [penalty] of the State for failing to reduce exposure and to increase capacity. No [need for] evacuation if [the] vulnerable is relocated. No rescue, if evacuated. No rehabilitation, if homes are built safely. The more disasters, the higher the rights of the vulnerable, [and] the higher the duties of the State.”

In the end, it is up to all Boholanos to own or not a new path of development, one that will keep them, their loved ones and their investments safe from the ravages of nature. – Rappler.com

A native of Cagayan de Oro, where there is a big Boholano diaspora, Dean La Viña has many personal connections to the island. Through the years, he has also worked on Bohol issues from local governance to fisheries and the management of coastal and marine resources. Lately, he has been organizing international conferences in Bohol to showcase the island’s ecotourism sites and historical legacy to foreign colleagues. Dr Kristoffer Berse is a disaster risk management specialist currently affiliated with the Ateneo School of Government as an adjunct faculty. A true-blue Boholano, he spent part of his high school at the Sacred Heart Academy which was completely reduced to rubble along with the Church of the Nuestra Señora de la Luz in Loon. He lost an ancestral house from the earthquake and still has relatives and friends in Calape who need urgent assistance. They co-teach courses on disaster risk reduction at the Ateneo School of Government.