A few hours after Super Typhoon Yolanda entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility, Project NOAH and our weather agencies have already been predicting the intensity and size of the typhoon. As it neared landfall, local and foreign meteorological agencies and news sources started warning us about the intensity and scale of the storm.
Super Typhoon Yolanda broke records not only as one of the largest typhoons but also as the worst typhoon disaster in the world.
Officials now estimate a death toll of more than 10,000 and more than 8 million affected individuals in the Visayas.
Typhoons on such a scale would drain the capacity of local communities to cope-up with the associated impacts of the disaster. However, we should have learned from previous strong typhoons that we have experienced such as Sendong and Pablo. Risk reduction and disaster management must not come after the calamity but it should be a preemptive measure to prepare the people from extreme conditions.
Overdependence on telcos
We have mastered post-disaster response online and social media but we still need to master it offline. Government’s overdependence on private cellphone companies reflect this state of preparedness.
Communications are vital in order to have systematic coordination during disasters and to have a good information system for families that are concerned with their loved ones. All channels of communications should be tapped. Simply relying on existing private telecommunication infrastructures and short range radio would be problematic. This was shown as Yolanda rendered communication lines useless during the typhoon.
All-weather communication systems such as high frequency radio have been available since World War I. Despite the early warning on the strength of the storm, it reflects on the preparations that the Aquino administration made when they did not make these channels the priority medium for information to coordinate and get updated reports.
Off the charts
Yolanda has been referred by the scientific community as an “off the charts” typhoon. It packed 300kph winds which was expected to lift cars and destroy structures including cellphone tower. Apparently, Secretary Roxas and Secretary Gazmin did not prepare back-up communication as they went to Leyte to lead disaster mitigation efforts.
Radio communication like the popular walkie-talkie and high-frequency radios should have been deployed all throughout as part of the disaster preparedness mobilisation on top of prepositioning relief goods and evacuation centers. These prepositioned goods become useless if coordination breaks down.
Pagasa and Project NOAH of the DOST have given us accurate forecast on the path, rainfall, wind and storm surge brought by Yolanda. The country has already experienced Pablo, Sendong and Ondoy which should have been a wake up call to BS Aquino Administration on how to prepare for impending disasters.
These extreme weather events are slowly being the norm as pointed out in the new UN FCCC report on climate change. Despite Super Typhoon Yolanda being an infrequent storm, we should have prepared way before for events such as these. As such, funds for these preparations should have been integrated in the overall budget. We cannot rely on emergency funds alone for such disaster response capability.
The national government justified the use of the Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP) and other so-called presidential pork barrel in disaster situations like these.
A televised broadcast is not enough to mobilize the whole nation to prepare for Yolanda. That would be only effective, if the national government has an organized and systematic plan to evacuate, coordinate, rescue, provide relief and rehabilitation. In the long term, communities should be supported to be resilient. Unfortunately, resiliency will always be inadequate unless families are capable of building strong enough shelter on safe grounds and prepare provisions.
To have these means giving them decent jobs and not mere dole-outs.