The Philippines is not alien to natural disasters. It is hit by at least 20 storms annually and is located at the Pacific Ring of Fire. In fact, it has withstood countless deadly calamities—from storms to earthquakes to volcanic eruptions—and its citizens live as if calamities were normal occurrences.
Indeed, no one knows when or when a calamity will strike. However, despite the many disasters and calamities that befell the Philippines, the country is still ill-equipped in terms of disaster preparedness and risk reduction plan, according to GMA Weather resident meteorologist Nathaniel Cruz.
“It should have been long ago. Imagine, with 20 cyclones a year, with climate change—because of warmer temperature, we should expect more intense cyclones,” Cruz told The Manila Times.
He pointed out that factors like personality-based politics particularly in the local government units (LGU), which is further worsened by corruption, weakens the state’s ability to instill an effective risk reduction plan.
“The problem here is that our officials are interchanging. For example, if this mayor is focused on disaster preparedness and the one who replaced him is more focused on development, then dealing with disasters is not a priority,” he said.
While Cruz noted that Yolanda’s damage to infrastructure and other properties could not have been prevented, the people’s lives could have been preserved.
“When a storm passes, whether you are prepared or not, infrastructure will really be destroyed. Power will be cut off, posts will tumble down, and agriculture will be wiped out. But, the thing is, you can restore those after sometime. But the people’s lives… those who died, that could have been prevented,” he said.
In other countries regularly hit by calamities, risk reduction program is a very serious matter. Japan, the world’s most prepared in calamities, for example, has regular and difficult emergency drills and each neighborhood has its own evacuation points and typhoon shelters.
But when disasters strike in the Philippines, schools and gymnasiums become makeshift evacuation centers even if these are located in hazardous areas thus causing more deaths. People, including government officials, have little understanding of what is forecast by state meteorologists. Relief operations, just like what happened in Leyte and Samar, is so slow that survivors can die of hunger.
Indeed, a serious risk reduction plan is long overdue, the former state meteorologist pointed out.
“It’s high time for the disaster preparedness plan of each local government unit to be scrutinized. But the problem is there’s limited resource… because of widespread corruption, no one would even bother constructing [a dedicated evacuation center],” Cruz said.