Govt to relocate coastal communities in Visayas

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THOUSANDS of families living along the country’s typhoon-battered eastern coastlines will be transferred to safer resettlement areas to prevent the massive loss of lives from storm surges driven by powerful typhoons such as Yolanda (international name Haiyan), Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on Sunday.

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Coloma said President Benigno Aquino 3rd instructed Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje to establish a “no build zone” on the coasts of Tacloban City and other vulnerable cities and municipalities in the provinces of Leyte and Samar.

“Part of the President’s directive is to declare no build zones along coastlines to ensure the transfer of those who used to reside there to safer resettlement areas. Typhoon Yolanda brought us a storm surge that caught people unprepared due to lack of understanding and experience about it,” Coloma said, adding that the move would form part of a comprehensive program on environment protection.

Coloma’s pronouncement came as Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon disclosed also on Sunday that the Chinese Red Cross Society was planning to provide one million houses to families affected by Yolanda.

“One million was the figure first raised but I suggested that we do it slowly and begin with 5,000 units so we would not be humiliated in the future,” Gordon told The Manila Times.

He said he had asked President Aquino and Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez to immediately reserve an area where the new housing units would be built.

“The agreement is that we should commit a place first before anything is constructed. Each housing unit is about 24 square meters,” Gordon said.

He said he recently met with his Chinese counterpart, Dr. Zhao Baego, who is also vice president of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Bitter lesson
Coloma said the President directed the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to make sure no one will be living along dangerous waterways and typhoon paths.

“This is similar to our previous experience when typhoon Sendong battered the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro in December 2011. Hundreds died there because they lived in a dried portion of a river and inland waterways that were marked as danger zones,” the Palace official said.

On the other hand, Typhoon Pablo that ravaged Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley taught people about “debris flow,” which is the quick and powerful movement of rocks and boulders from the highlands, Coloma said.

“There is a need to take into consideration all the lessons learned from these past experiences to implement the principle of ‘build back better’. To erect stronger houses and buildings,” he said.

The President also instructed the DENR to launch a program to grow mangroves along the country’s coasts to serve as a natural protection from storm surges and even tsunamis.

“Mangrove plantations are being prepared and planting will start soon because it would take five to 78 years for them to grow,” Coloma said.

Silent work
Besides the Chinese Red Cross, local Chinese firms have been helping people in the affected regions without fanfare or publicity.

Sources from the Chinese community said the companies were among the “first responders” to the devastation caused by the typhoon in Central Visayas.

On November 10, just two days after Yolanda hit, a group of engineers and other experts from Huawei Technology installed a satellite telephone link that transmitted the first call outside of Tacloban.

Huwaei, one of the world’s largest telecommunication companies, is a partner of Globe Philippines.

For three days, Huwaei workers restored local communication facilities in the affected areas and helped distribute relief goods to victims.

Ren Zhengfei, Huwaei chief executive officer, said their “culture” of patience, hard work and customer-oriented service is among their motivation to extend help and assistance to everyone, especially during times of great calamity.

The China National Grid Company (CNGC), a partner of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), was already on the ground on November 8, while Yolanda was still raging to determine the fastest way to restore power supply especially in Leyte, Samar and Bohol, under its “Black-Start” program.

CNGC organized 34 groups of engineers and other experts involving some 1,500 personnel coming from areas in Luzon and Mindanao least affected by the storm to hasten the work on power restoration.

The NGCP/CNGC also donated P20 million for relief, rescue, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) also sent its own experts to the Philippines to assist the NGCP/CNGC teams.

Despite sustaining losses from the typhoon, Yinyi Inc., a Chinese company engaged in mining in Eastern Samar, mobilized its resources including vehicles for relief and emergency assistance to the communities around its mining site.

Yinyi employees also donated P250,000 to buy food, bottled water, medicines and other vital items for the disaster victims.

The China Navy also sent its hospital ship, the Peace Ark, to the disaster areas.

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