In defense of a rational disaster resilience campaign

Published October 13, 2021, 12:03 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Filipinos do not have to look back as far as Typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda to remind them of catastrophic natural disasters. Fresh on the headlines and social media are scenes of devastation wrought by Typhoon Maring in the north, the country’s 13th tropical cyclone for 2021 and the second this month.

So what does this mean? It doesn’t take a scientist to conclude that our country is strategically in the path of natural disasters. Each year, more than two dozen typhoons batter the country, with each one gaining more force than the previous event. The country also resides in the Pacific Ring of Fire, making earthquakes and volcanic activities regular occurrences.

Year in and year out, the scenes are the same. Flood water reaches the roof of homes and people are evacuated, often ending up in cramped classrooms or gymnasiums. The tragedy is doubled this pandemic as risk of COVID transmission is high with the lack of social distancing. After the aftermath of a typhoon or any natural disaster like what had happened in Taal Volcano in 2020, the scenes are replayed again. Evacuees plead for basic necessities such as food, clothing, and toiletries. The local government is overwhelmed with recovery and reconstruction. Then there is a relief drive from agencies such as the DSWD and from private organizations.

The rationale for a strong and efficient disaster risk management can be traced back after the tragedy of Typhoon Ondoy. From its lessons, the national government instituted an order known as Republic Act 10121, or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.” This law required local government units to create their own disaster risk reduction offices.  Way back, this law had a noble cause as it empowered those at the LGU level to institute plans and implement programs to ensure that even the smallest barangays are equipped and ready when a natural disaster strikes.

Through time, climate change has worsened, exemplified by a once-in-a-century typhoon called Yolanda. The government may be equipped to address typhoons but the sheer magnitude and expansive impact of Yolanda seemingly crippled its relief and response drive, and wreaked havoc on communications and coordination. Yolanda, sad to say, is not the end but just a portent of typhoons to come.

Fast forward to the last State-of-the-Nation address of President Duterte where he expressed his support for a bill establishing a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR), which he said is akin to “FEMA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the United States.”  Like FEMA, the DDR is a focused department that will ensure a proactive approach to natural disasters making sure our country is resilient in the face of disasters.  As of the moment, that bill has already passed on final reading at the House of Representatives, but is still pending at the Senate. The Senate version, filed by Senator Bong Go, is SB No. 205.

Whether the present Senate would have time to finally pass this bill remains to be seen since the political circus came early to town. But it is in the nation’s interest to be ready at all times, especially as climate change threatens to rear its ugly head.

The pandemic, granted that more vaccinations would happen in the coming months, will likely be downgraded to a health concern. But when it comes to natural disasters, there are no downgrading and only one “vaccine” to conquer them – preparation.

Today, October 13, the United Nations is marking the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction.