IT is distressing that during three typhoons hit the country this holiday season causing an unconscionable loss of life and billions of pesos in infrastructure and property and residential damage. Most of these typhoons occurred in Mindanao, particularly the two Lanaos (Norte and Sur) and Zamboanga del Norte for “Vinta.” According to Mindanao News, a total of 214 people were killed and 101 are missing. We already know the toll from Biliran, Samar and other parts of the Eastern Visayas that were hit by “Urduja,” too many in a region that is historically typhoon-prone.
Meanwhile, we still have to hear about the toll from most recent one, “Agaton.”
It is a national tragedy indeed that we seem helpless and paralyzed by the advent of storms. So much so as to perennially experience what seems to be a wasteful and painful loss of lives as well as dreadful destruction. Think of those communities left devastated during the holiday season mourning lives lost and property destroyed. How will they recover?
Precautions and defenses
While climate change is upon us and causing unprecedented weather turmoil, perhaps in this new normal we should also adjust to new normal precautions and defenses.
The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), our meteorology department, has certainly improved in the area of weather forecasting, coming out with timely and accurate predictions of where and how and when the weather disturbances will hit. They should have been echoed down the line from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) down to local governments through the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). And the ensuing warnings, evacuations, emergency provisions put in place. Apparently, some did but most did not.
The rest of the players in the weather disturbance universe here seem not to be on the same page. Take the local governments that seemed clueless about evacuation procedures or even preparations. Did Biliran province not have evacuation centers and did the local government there not use its authority to have the residents evacuated before the typhoon hit? In Mindanao, which normally does not experience typhoons, the last few years of climate change have already demonstrated that they are now in the typhoon belt too. Yet the devastation and deaths they have experienced show that they still do not believe that climate change has brought them a new normal. Even Palawan now experiences typhoons when it usually did not. Residents interviewed after the typhoon mayhem there say they were “campante” because they are not used to typhoons. Some authority should work to change this mindset. Was there no government agency or authority that could have effectively changed their minds before the typhoons came? Given that there are many islets around the major islands, local government should have used radio to the full to alert its local officials there and given them instructions.
One also has to wonder what exactly did the NDRRMC do to cope with what happened except after-the-fact mitigation of the deaths and damage. While in the previous administration this agency aimed for zero deaths and manfully tried to meet its goal resulting in minimal deaths (after “Yolanda” where it learned a hard lesson), this time there seems to have been an apathetic reaction to typhoon warnings from this agency.
What is going on seems to be apathy and inability to plan ahead. If Pagasa issues warnings, these must be quickly disseminated by local governments and the NDRRMC immediately, with parallel action from local government officials to move residents from endangered areas to evacuation centers, using police powers if necessary.
Information through television and radio must be amplified in the areas at risk with the concomitant action taken to put people out of harm’s way.
At this point of our environmental recklessness where we have allowed deforestation, unregulated mining and building of communities in perilous areas, infrastructure and damage to houses and property will be difficult to mitigate or prevent. Note that when the heavy rains come, the waters from mountains and highlands eventually come rushing down to the lowlands in such force and with such debris that nothing along the way is safe from destruction, be it bridges, roads, concrete buildings. What more those houses of light materials and sheltering helpless human beings? The fact is that water is damaging enough but the real destruction is what the water brings along with it, the full force of abused Nature—soil, rocks, tree trunks—the obvious result of deforestation, unregulated mining, erosion from tampering with hills and acutely angled land unfit but used for agriculture when they should have been left as is.
We are in a national situation where there is a need to reeducate everyone on climate change and the environment. This will be easier said than done but at least let us begin somewhere.
Pagasa warnings must be taken seriously. Local governments and the NDRRMC must work together and prepare for such warnings way before they come. Information and precautionary measures to take must be widely propagated so everyone knows what to expect and what to do. Provide evacuation centers with what they need to be real safe havens—sturdy and spacious buildings, enough water, food and medical services. All of these before the onset and in the aftermath of calamitous weather events.
Vital remedial measures
But before weather disturbances come around, there are more vital and remedial measures that have to be taken. There is a map provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showing dangerous areas that should not be built on and are prone to landslides. This map should be publicized and followed. The areas designated are inherently unstable and are not fit for settlement. They are not safe to build on or even to cultivate. Local governments or a national agency should monitor these areas closely and prevent settlements there. If necessary, they should move any settlements in these areas to safer places.
The above is already a herculean task but a start and an unflagging effort should begin because of the loss of lives from the consequences of doing nothing.
While there are reforestation projects in the country, they are obviously not enough yet to reverse what has been destroyed of our forest resources in the past. We need a massive, continuous and persevering reforestation in this abused land. As a country that has endured too any natural calamities, we should begin to defend ourselves by placating Nature. Illegal logging, unregulated mining, farming in slopes that will turn unstable must be curbed and in time eliminated. Building residential communities in dangerous areas must by law be stopped.
The typhoons will keep coming. And earthquakes too. We have to defend ourselves. This should be a national policy that translates to national effort.