I WAS recently asked to give an input regarding developing resilience and disaster preparedness for a group of community leaders coming from Yolanda stricken areas of Samar, Leyte and Cebu.
I tried to update a presentation I made last year as the disaster struck the area. There I listed several points on how our communities can build disaster resilience from the bottom up as well as having ‘kaandaman” or preparedness in light of the many hazards that our country faces.
One has to start by recognizing that the Philippines historically lies geographically right in the center of the most frequented paths of the strongest typhoons. We are also in the Pacific Ring of Fire which is where volcanoes lie and many earthquakes are made.
Typhoon Yolanda not only made the record books in terms of its size and speed but it also was one of the most destructive storms in the country. We are in fact a country beset by hydrometeorological hazards, many of which turn into disasters.
According to the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) of the Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, eight of the top 10 disasters from 1900 to 2013 in terms of the number killed are storm induced. Yolanda tops the list at 7,986 dead.
The top 10 disasters during the same period in terms of the number of people affected are all caused by storms or flooding. In terms of the economic cost, only the 1990 earthquake (at number 7) was not flooding or storm related. Yolanda tops both lists with 16,106,807 individuals affected and at least $10 billion dollars in damage.
What does this tell us regarding our preparedness needs? We should be busy preparing for hyrdometeorological hazards like storm surges, flooding and rains year-end and year-out. We should be able to deal with widespread, and possibly multiple, storm and flooding events.
I found an interesting book that describes how we as a nation have dealt with disasters. In his “Culture of Disaster” work, Gary Bankoff points out that disasters have shaped not only our lives but our history as well. He looked at how typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and droughts have influenced Phillipine culture, economics, politics and even our social order.
Published in 2003, the book should have warned the current government that, as Bankoff writes, “the management of natural hazard and the organization of disaster relief and rehabilitation has been increasingly considered the role of government” mainly due to the increasing frequency and impact of disasters to the nation. He quotes further, from Feria-Miranda, that this effectively turns disasters into political exercises.
This has been so true with the Haiyan disaster a year ago. The political drama of the Presidential announcements a day before Haiyan struck, the deployment of, and the subsequent loss of contact with, the secretaries of national defense and local government to ground zero, the agonizing delays in relief, the now famous Amanpour interviews, the political bickering in YouTube, the massive rallies in Tacloban–all these play out to the nation amplified by global television and social media.
With historical lenses and viewing Yolanda from the “Cultures of Disasters” point of view, the headline yesterday of the Manila Times where the typhoon Yolanda victims were calling for Aquino to resign is easy to understand. Disasters can spell disaster to an administration if it fumbles along the way. The year long delays and the inaction highlight this for all to see.
This will play out longer than the administration would want. The anniversary of the devastation in Tacloban this weekend is only the start as it will bring together disaster survivors from Typhoon Pablo and Sendong as well as those coming from other places in the Visayas affected by Yolanda such as Estancia, Iloilo and northern Cebu. Until the government gives housing, jobs and rehabilitated farms and fisheries, the economic disgruntlement will continue.
The highlight might be very well not this anniversary but the visit of the Pope in January next year. The site visit of the popular Catholic leader, who is perceived by many as pro-poor, is an opportunity for the victims to put even stronger focus on their plight. We just hope that the national government and the local leaders don’t turn to whitewash the problems in the long term rehabilitation of the Visayas.
In remembering Haiyan, we should keep in mind that the main reason for the widespread disaster is the widespread vulnerability of our people especially in the Visayas. As long as many remain poor without jobs or without land to till, perennial natural hazards will chronically turn into disasters that can unmake any administration who ignores our culture and history.