SCIENTISTS tell us that it was probably just a coincidence that four major earthquakes – one in Myanmar, two in Japan (which included a volcanic eruption as a completely unnecessary bonus), and one in Ecuador – all occurred within days of each other.
We at The Manila Times are willing to take the scientists’ word for it, but we see no harm in the public’s imagining they are witnessing a chain of events rather than a coincidental collection of individual ones.
The reason why the misperception is acceptable, and may, to some extent, even be a benefit, is that it encourages people to consider their own safety and response to natural disasters, as well as the plight of those affected. Much the same can be said of our reaction to extreme weather, such as the recent spell of dangerously hot, dry weather experienced by most of the country; it is difficult to pin the blame for one ‘heatwave’ on ‘climate change’ – the impact of climate change happens on a much larger scale over a timeframe measured in years or decades – but if we think it does, then we are inclined to be more thoughtful about the bigger and more important issue.
Awareness is one thing; putting it to good use to improve the preparation of communities to withstand and effectively respond to calamities is quite another. It is an area in which our government of the past six years has been more than unimpressive, preferring to prioritize political aims and image management ahead of actual response and recovery in disasters such as the Bohol earthquake, Supertyphoon Yolanda and the Zamboanga siege.
It goes without saying that we expect our next government to substantially improve on the preparedness and performance of the Aquino Administration. So far, none of the candidates has offered much apart from very general views on the subject of preparedness and response to natural and other hazards, and that is cause for alarm.
More than that, however, it should be a reminder to each of us that our first, best protection against calamities is ourselves. Understanding that we face risks and having a personal plan, and practicing it ahead of time, to respond to various emergencies is vital for our safety and health and that of our families. These emergencies could include earthquakes, typhoons, floods, fires, and even less spectacular but still potentially dangerous hazards, such as extreme heat or a lack of electricity or water supplies. After all, no matter how well organized and efficient the government’s response is, we will always be the first ones on the scene of any emergency that affects us.
Taking steps to reduce our own risks is good citizenship as well; by helping to make the job of government and other responders that little bit easier, we help to ensure that aid can reach more people in a shorter amount of time and that our communities recover more quickly.
Yes, government – and those who would like to lead – should be better-prepared and use its disaster response and recovery resources more wisely; but if we have that realization and take no steps to protect ourselves from government’s shortcomings until it is too late, we must share some of the blame for our own misery.