The Philippine islands are often the first major landmass to be hit by storms spawned over the Pacific Ocean. The Southeast Asian archipelago endures about 20 major storms each year, many of them deadly.
Typhoon Karen was initially trumpeted by our weather-forecasting bureau, Pagasa, as possibly “the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.”
By the time Karen (international name, Sarika) left the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) yesterday, it seemed thankfully like the mildest and quickest ordeal we ever experienced, and much more so in areas outside northern Luzon.
The overall toll was relatively light compared with that of previous typhoons: one or two deaths from drowning, three persons missing, a score injured, 12,500 evacuated to safer ground, and a scattering of families rendered homeless. Minor landslides and flooding were also reported the day after the cyclone.
The head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), Ricardo Jalad, summed it up this way: “We were told roofs were ripped off houses and there were fallen trees but that’s about the extent of damage that we know of.”
To the credit of the authorities, government crew and utility workers immediately went to work, clearing roads blocked by landslides, toppled trees and posts and other debris. Some towns began sending people from temporary shelters back to their homes as the danger passed.
NDRRMC reported that about 12,500 people left their homes shortly before Karen struck, seeking refuge in government-run shelters and relatives’ homes.
Eleven people were rescued after a boat capsized off the eastern island of Samar on Friday, while about 1,000 boats and 6,500 passengers were stranded in ports as the coast guard barred smaller vessels from putting to sea.
The disaster agency said 290 commercial flights, including 63 to international destinations, were canceled.
So all told, we have not been stricken by another catastrophe in the magnitude of Supertyphoon Yolanda.
Yolanda, also known by its international name, Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever recorded to hit land, smashed into the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.
Of course we hope that should any natural disaster strike us, let it not be like another Yolanda, whose third anniversary we will mark next month.
Considering that there was no foul-up in government’s response to Karen, it may appear unseemly to some that we raise here today a matter which we consider urgent and vital: the rethinking and rebranding of the country‘s disaster management system.
We submit, first, that for a country that is visited by multiple natural disasters every year, we have a very unwieldy and crude system for coping with a natural emergency.
Consider: first, the National disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is conceived as a big tent of virtually all government departments, agencies and non-government organizations in the country. It looks impossible to manage.
To correct this absurdity, we believe that what we really need is a fulltime and full-fledged disaster management agency, not a council. A council is a like a board of directors – which is not designed for quick action and response.
An agency setup would resemble more the operations of the Red Cross, which is by far the most effective and trusted disaster, relief and response organization in the planet today.
Second, for an operation designed to assist people and entire communities during a time of great peril, the name NDRRMC (acronym) is impossible to pronounce. In comparison, our weather forecasting agency, Pagasa, is appropriately and attractively named.
In short, we need a full-fledged disaster management agency designed for quick response and rescue action, as well as emergency medical and food relief operation, and which has an easily identifiable brand – one which all our people can relate to.
The next time disaster strikes – and Pagasa has been warning the public of another big storm coming after Karen, named Lawin – we should have a dependable disaster and emergency management system in place that people can easily remember and trust to come to their aid swiftly.