What do you do with a problem like Tisoy? Some perspectives on disaster management

Published December 5, 2019, 12:20 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

OF SUBSTANCE AND SPIRIT

By DIWA C. GUINIGUNDO

Diwa C. Guinigundo
Diwa C. Guinigundo

Overheard:  “Mag-ingat kay Tisoy! Malakas ang dating niya!”  Pinoys find humor even when facing disaster.

Typhoon Tisoy wreaked its havoc and humor does not mitigate it. BBC reports that Tisoy made landfall in Gubat, Sorsogon, in the evening of Monday, December 2. The whole of Bicol was hard-hit. Some Bicol disaster officers reported extensive damage, noting that water reached the roofs of many houses.  Trees and power poles were felled by strong winds. Thousands  were displaced as Tisoy strengthened on its path towards the Mimaropa region with up to winds of 215 kilometers per hour.  The Joint Typhoon Warning Center classified it as a Category 4 hurricane.

The Philippines is not a stranger to disasters.  Disasters and calamities regularly test our spirit and resilience as a nation. We have seen much stronger, and more destructive typhoons than Tisoy.  Yolanda is an example.

Destructive typhoons and other types of disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and droughts made it absolutely imperative for Congress decades ago, to allocate both a calamity fund and a quick response fund.

The battering rams of typhoons can only be expected since the Philippines precariously sits on both the typhoon belt, and on the Ring of Fire. The Geneva-based United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction ranks the Philippines the fourth most disaster-prone country in the world.

Therefore, It is no longer a question of whether typhoons would come.  The questions are: How many will come and how strong and destructive will they be? What will be the cost?

Natural disasters are not unique to the Philippines. They are global and they have become a real challenge to public policy.

In a study by the  International Monetary Fund (IMF) entitled, “Macroeconomic Outcomes in Disaster-Prone Countries,” authored by Alessandro Cantelmo, Giovanni Melina, and Chris Papageorgiou in October, 2019, it was stressed that “the speed at which temperatures have changed globally over the past 40 years is unprecedented and further global warming may still take place, depending on how governments will be able to restrain greenhouse effects.”

The IMF study departs from conventional methodology.  First, the macroeconomic impact of natural disasters is assessed in a non-linear way because such disasters are large and their impact could be staggering.  Second, it assumes that economies will not necessarily converge back to their normal state after large and frequent shocks have inflicted untold damage.

Indeed, the economics of disaster is very challenging. The study finds that weather shocks can undermine the development process of many low-income countries.  It states there is a sizeable welfare loss in disaster-prone countries with a permanent loss in consumption of 1,6 percent for the non-disaster prone countries.  It reports that in the long-run, climate change may actually expand the gap to growth to 3 percent a year while increasing the welfare loss seven times more.  It argues that the decline in output also brings about lower public revenues and therefore, higher public debt especially for disaster-prone countries compared to those countries not weather prone.  Finally and more importantly, it states that international aid would be more useful if it can be made to finance ex-ante investment in resilient public infrastructure rather than coming in virtually as a dirge, post-damage.

Ano pa ang halaga ng damo kung patay na ang kabayo?

The country does not lack laws to institutionalize disaster management. In 2009, Congress enacted the Climate Change Act and in 2010, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act. These laws both aspire to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities against natural disasters and minimize the welfare loss by looking into good governance, risk assessment and early warning devices and awareness raising for effective response and early recovery.

We have gone a long way in terms of issuing early warning advisories and risk assessments. The damage to life and property has been minimized.

However, our plate remains full.

In its assessment of the government’s disaster management performance after Yolanda (2013), the Commission on Audit (COA) found that the government’s response and recovery efforts during Yolanda were inadequate. COA reported that the government had difficulty coordinating and collaborating with the private sector, betraying unreadiness and ineptitude. According to COA, many local government units have yet to integrate disaster risk reduction and management into their own development and disaster preparedness plans. The government was simply “crushed and overwhelmed by the scope and enormity of Yolanda’s destruction.” COA added that while the government has progressed in information and awareness efforts, there is little progress in disaster risk financing. Recovery and rehabilitation efforts in affected areas remain low. Monitoring public expenditures for DRRM was described as a failure, and a good analysis of public spending on DRRM is yet to be done.

It is admitted that several initiatives have already been undertaken by government to address key issues in disaster management. But there is the enormous cost of unpreparedness.  There is a sad disconnect between already existing disaster plans and programs, and their actual implementation.  The last 80 years attest to this.  These eight decades are no less than unfortunate and lost. We have been muddling through building infrastructure only to lose them in the tragedy of disaster after disaster.

The agenda for the future is clearly to find ways to step up in a lot more strategic and effective ways. What the bigger picture demands is a modality on better management of our fate as we sit on the triangle of fire and earthquake belt, thinking of characters like Tisoy, who rage rather than charm.

What do we do with a problem like Tisoy?  Again, keri naman. Gaps between plans and implementation should be bridged only with a straight line.

 

 
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