A department devoted to disaster management


It is frustrating when we see how the Philippines is oftentimes depicted in international media as impoverished, with some local movies released through international outlets highlighting the shanties, for instance. But as these issues may merely be sensationalized for ratings purposes, it is a fact that our country is one of the world's most disaster-prone areas in the world. Blame it on our natural geography as the Philippines is located along the boundary of major tectonic plates and at the center of a typhoon belt making our islands prone to floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and droughts.

As the rainy season has made itself more pronounced with the daily thunderstorms we have been experiencing, the seemingly irresolvable problem of flooding rises up yet again, literally and figuratively speaking.

Just the past weekend, I was stuck in standstill traffic along Araneta Avenue as Metro Manila and other parts of the country were swamped with floods triggered by a thunderstorm. Chest-deep floodwater kept vehicles from moving forward. Fortunately, those lucky enough to be at the tail end of traffic agreed to reverse, and we were able to move out of the jam.

In a study made by the University of the Philippines Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH), the problem of urban flooding is not a matter which cannot be solved. Using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)-derived topography, flood simulations and anecdotal reports, UP NOAH detected the root of surface flood problems; the majority of flood-prone areas are along the intersection of creeks and streets located in topographic lows. So, when creeks, which we have an abundance of overflow, or when streets suddenly got flooded, intersecting roads get flooded too. Some of the most effective solutions include elevating roads. Designs of drainage structures leading to creeks must also be revisited.

For now, we have the National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council (NDRRMC), responsible for ensuring the protection and welfare of the people during disasters or emergencies. This council is a working group of various government, non-government, civil sector and private sector organizations. But seeing the vexation caused by flooding and consequential traffic congestion, not to mention the billions of pesos lost daily due to congested Metro Manila roads, it is high time the national government establishes a separate department dedicated to addressing calamities and disasters even before they strike.

This brings me back to when I was working at the Philippine Senate and advocated for a bill passed by Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito. As a Philippine Red Cross disaster director, I was excited to see the bill that seeks the creation of a permanent disaster management department. Sadly, however, this was not passed into law.

Now that Ejercito is back in the Senate, hopes are high that this bill can finally be legislated as it will solely focus on disaster management.

I remember Ejercito saying he will pursue the advocacy once re-elected in the same manner that he pursued the creation of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development which is now a law.

As our nation faces the inevitable, disaster preparedness cannot be tabled much longer. While the Philippine government has been said to develop a certain resiliency through coping mechanisms whenever disaster strikes, a study by Harvard Humanitarian Initiative reveals the significant gaps in disaster management capacities across different regions of the Philippines. A separate department devoted to disaster management and preparedness can address preventive measures and solutions to these problems.