By Yusuf Ashraf “Joey”
The recent super typhoons Rolly and Ulysses and typhoons Quinta and Siony that consecutively battered the different parts of our archipelagic country and the destruction that they have wrought along its path due to heavy rains, strong winds and severe flooding are not something new. In fact, these were expected and, sad to say, as a nation we have already become numbed to this kind of natural disaster i.e., as to the loss of lives, destructions of crops, property and infrastructure.
Since time immemorial, and more so with the advent of climate change/global warming in the 1950s as a result of the Third Industrial Revolution, our country has been prone to tropical cyclones due to its geographical location in the Philippine Sea and in the North Pacific Ocean. In fact, more tropical cyclones (TCs) are entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) than anywhere else in the world. With the average of 20 TCs in this region per year, on average eight or nine tropical storms make landfall in the Philippines each year.
Given these reality and facts, it does not have to take a rocket scientist to figure out what our country could do, and should do, in anticipation of a foreseeable natural calamity. And yet, despite such predictable weather forecast (and PAG-ASA is very good at it), our country seems to be perennially in a “state of unreadiness” and in a “state of calamity” – always caught “flat-footed”, as evidenced by the loss of lives and destruction of property, which is mind boggling to say the least. This is to include even just a mere torrential rain, as evidenced by the destruction of dikes, roads, bridges and levees, due to flash floods.
In all of these, the government’s response is predictably reactionary, ad hoc, chaotic, disorganized, slow, and even, comical. And to add salt to injury, the government does not have readily available and the necessary equipment, logistics, medical supplies, life-saving medical equipment, and land, sea and air transportation to launch light and major rescue operations, relief efforts and rehabilitation. There is also absence of contingency plans for temporary shelters, basic sanitation services and the provision of food, water, medicines, clothing, bedding and sleeping mats for the victims, survivors, and the internally displaced. And the mother of all incompetence, it does not have a unified on-site Incident Command System that coordinates with discipline and cohesiveness all the rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts by the different concerned public and private agencies, when “time is of the essence” in disaster management.
The much talked about Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (DRRMC) from the national level down to the local levels have never been proven effective in the face of this natural disaster, including during earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Its failure is evident in all the key areas that they are supposed to manage, namely: (a) disaster prevention and mitigation; (b) disaster preparedness; (c) disaster response; and (d) disaster recovery and rehabilitation. This is not surprising because the law itself that created these councils, Republic Act 10121, has been set-up to fail from the very beginning i.e., funding is only less than 5% of income from regular sources, with a ratio of 70% for prevention, mitigation and preparedness, and 30% to response, recovery and rehabilitation.
Besides, it is only a council, and technically, therefore, it is not an organic institution. With that being said, its role is simply relegated to networking and coordinating when disaster strikes. And on top of that, it does not have the necessary and readily available resources at its disposal to respond to disasters.
The keys to risk management and emergency management are abatement and mitigation – the “prior to” a disaster. In this regard, the biggest culprit has been the government. After the end of the Marcos era, the infrastructure priorities of the six administrations that came after have always been misplaced. It is geared more towards the building of highways, streets, roads, mass transit, buildings, airports, information technology and bridges. Not much public works infrastructure has been invested to mitigate the impact of typhoons, such as, catch basins, impounding dams, dikes, storm drains, sewerage, coastal flood prevention levees, earthen levee, aqueducts, flood control basin, drainage basin, and the dredging of heavily silted bays. Moreover, there is lack of strict enforcement of environmental regulations by the national government on quarrying, mining and deforestation. On the other hand, local governments do not enforce strict zoning regulations, as it relates to land use.
In short, the toll on human lives and the destruction of agricultural crops, property and infrastructures every time there will be natural disasters in our country are expected and will go unabated. It is about time then for the government to take a serious look in its infrastructure priorities, environmental regulations and land use, in the context of disaster management.
The first step is to create an agency that is exclusively designed to handle emergency management. An agency that will have sizeable budget to institutionalize all the mechanisms necessary to respond to all types of disasters and having the necessary logistics and trained manpower to make it effective. And most important, that agency should be insulated from politics i.e., run by experts and experienced people that have strong credentials in emergency management and whose employees must be career civil servants because the critical factor in disaster management is “consistency” and “continuity.”
How I wish our government will pass a bill creating an agency that is more or less patterned after the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, whose mission is to support the citizens and first responders to promote, that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all forms of hazards.
I really have certain reservations creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (House Bill No. 5989 or the Disaster Resilience Act, which was passed on September 22, 2020) because as a department, whose head will have a cabinet rank, things will most likely become political and, thereby, it will lose its independence, and consequently, prejudicing its core mission in the process. Moreover, just like any other layered bureaucracy that we know of, it will eventually become inefficient due to “red tapes” and its personnel bloated (without the necessary credentials) due to political patronage.
I hope that as Director of Risk Management and with my background in risk management for 21 years here in the United States of America, along with the natural, man-made and biological disasters that I have personally handled through the years as “Incident Commander”, I will still have the opportunity when I come home for good in our country in the next 7 years, to help our government, even in an advisory capacity, in institutionalizing and organizing this agency or department. For the love of our country, my services will be for FREE. (Muslimedia.PH)