• Disasters

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    Giovanni Tapang, Ph.D.

    Giovanni Tapang, Ph.D.

    The devastating earthquake in Bohol last Tuesday is a stark reminder of how vulnerable our communities still are to the different hazards present in the country. The humanitarian situation is dire and many people are appealing for help and assistance in Central Visayas. They would badly need food and water for the evacuees and medicines for the injured.

    At around 8:13 in the morning, a powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Bohol. It was felt at magnitude 7.0 at Tagbilaran City causing damage and displacement to many. Among the hardest hit were the municipalities of Loon, Antekerra and Maribojoc. Centuries old churches in Baclayon and Loboc have been heavily damaged.

    Magnitude is a measure of the energy released by an earthquake. A magnitude 3.0 earthquake would be felt slightly indoors and might cause loose objects to move. A magnitude 4.0 quake would be 10 times stronger and would be releasing more than 31.6 times in energy. A magnitude 7.0 quake would be around 10,000 times stronger than a truck passing by. That is what struck Bohol last Tuesday.

    More than a hundred died as a result of the quake and more than 200 were injured. Water and electric power has been interrupted. Other heritage churches, 17 of which are in Bohol, have also been affected. Houses and buildings have been damaged as well. Reports from Bohol mention evacuees from the shoreline communities staying in the covered courts of Barangays Cogon, Dao, Dampas, Tiptip, Manga and Urusan. Others are staying in the open fields of Loon, Maribojoc, San Isidro, Calape, Tubigon and Carmen.

    More than two thousand have opted for temporary shelter in Tagbilaran with many more in other municipalities. Earthmoving equipment are needed in the retrieval operations as many roads and bridges remain impassable. Landslides have occurred in many places and have isolated some areas temporarily.

    The tragedy in Bohol should be a warning for us to always be prepared for disasters. The country is part of the very active Pacific ring of fire and earthquakes would happen all the time. From time to time a large magnitude earthquake such as this one would occur. Since it is part of our geological heritage, we could at best prepare for such hazards.

    We cannot escape the hazards brought by tectonic activity. One option is of course build away from fault zones but a cursory glance at the fault maps of the Philvolcs would indicate that the country is crisscrossed by many fault lines. We can also do engineering solutions which can rack up costs for a building.

    The same is true for typhoons. We cannot avoid that around 20 or so typhoons would always strike out a path through the Philippine Area of Responsibility. One such typhoon crossed the Visayas last month and caused damage as well. We should just recall typhoons Pablo, Pepeng, Ondoy and Frank to realize the frequent strong visits of typhoon induced disasters in the country.

    Climate change has not made our life easier. Additional hazards such as increased rainfall and frequency of storms have been observed. The International Panel of Climate Change said in its report last month that the difference between dry and wet months will be more pronounced while sea levels are expected to rise as well. Climate change aggravates the hazards that we already face.

    Earthquakes and typhoons are examples of hazards that we cannot avoid. We cannot predict as of now the occurrences of quakes but we can earthquake-proof our buildings and roads. Historical monuments such as churches should be reinforced and rehabilitated.

    Although we can look at satellite maps and radar for the rain intensity and winds brought by a typhoon, we still have to typhoon-proof our roads, drainage the that the best way to reduce vulnerability is to combine this readiness with increasing the capacity of communities to face these hazards. This would entail providing access to local jobs, social services and economic relief in general in order to reduce the impact of disasters in our lives.

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