President Benigno Aquino 3rd must be dreaming when he made the pronouncement before Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines that the government was aiming for “zero casualties.”
Perhaps he should learn from what the Indian government did days before Cyclone Phailin struck the eastern part of India on October 14, 2013, which was more or less four weeks before Yolanda hit parts of the Visayas.
At least 20 people perished (reports put the death toll at 21 to 23) after Cyclone Phailin, with maximum winds reaching over 200 kilometers per hour, unleashed its fury. That low death toll is highly commendable considering that Cyclone Odisha, that packed maximum winds of 250 kph and hit India in 1999, left more than 15,000 dead.
India was able to avoid a high death toll from Phailin, because its government evacuated 900,000 people who would be hit by the powerful cyclone. The evacuation was done days before the storm made actual landfall, and that pro-active move was lauded by the international media, saying that India learned its lessons from the 1999 cyclone tragedy that killed 15,000 people.
Besides conducting the mass evacuations, the Indian government also readied all relief supplies (including food, water and clothing) days also before Phailin made actual landfall.
In the case of the Philippines, it is high time the government learned its lessons on how to deal with terrifying storms like Yolanda. And the President making a statement that the national government was aiming for zero casualties from Yolanda truly boggles the imagination, up to now.
In the first place, all typhoons with Storm Signals No. 2 and No. 3 usually leave a trail of dead bodies, with the 195-kph Typhoon Labuyo that hit the country on August 12, 2013 taking 103 lives from parts of Luzon that never experienced storm surges.
And in November 29, 2004, residents of Infanta, Real and General Nakar in Quezon province claimed that the sea suddenly surged to their lands during heavy rainfall caused by four tropical cyclones. More than 2,000 people perished from the floods.
The President and the rest of his confused do-gooders would have won admiration had they done what India did before Phailin made landfall, which is to evacuate most of the people who would be directly hit by Yolanda.
This would require transporting by air or sea thousands of residents in the eastern seaboards of Leyte to evacuation centers in Iloilo, Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao City or even parts of Southern Luzon. This would have required a massive mobilization of the air and sea assets of the Philippine military, and even tapping private airlines and shipping firms. But it would have been worth the effort, if one takes into account the death toll left behind by Yolanda, which has gone beyond 5,000.
Anyway, hundreds if not thousands of people affected by Yolanda have already been flown out of Tacloban City to Metro Manila and Cebu City.
India learned its lessons painfully when it was completely unprepared for Odisha in 1999, and the Philippine government must never overlook or deny its shortcomings and failures in dealing with Yolanda.
For sure, Yolanda will not be the last super typhoon to hit the Philippines, and we hope that the way the government acted before and after the super typhoon hit the country will be last time it does so.