STEPPING UP PREPAREDNESS IN DISASTER-PRONE CORDILLERA
A few weeks after the start of typhoon season in the country was officially declared, massive flashfloods and mudslides in Banaue, Ifugao first reported through calls for help from affected residents in the social media on July 7 quickly circulated, showing muddy waters rushing downwards, flowing in between houses in higher grounds, carrying along whatever it crosses along the path to lower parts of the famous tourist destination.
Scant details on the extent of the calamity were initially available and verified, but the intensity and damage the flashflood is causing is clear, based on the posted videos and photographs. No one was reportedly killed but three individuals were injured and close to 500 individuals were affected.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development, under its new leadership, promptly assured aid was being readied and help was on its way. Rescue teams were also responding in some areas. We hope they would come on time, since several roads and main routes have been closed or partially passable, delaying clearing operations itself.
It is unfortunate to see parts the region again suffering from the blows of natural calamities. We can’t avoid having this sinking feeling when we are always brought to our knees every time weather disturbances strike the disaster-prone Cordillera or anywhere else in the country, which has an agency tasked to work with civil societies so that local government units and its people are always on their feet and safe when calamities happen.
Every local government unit is supposed to have a comprehensive disaster plan, as mandated by the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan Act of 2010, to strengthen LGUs’ capacity to have permanent arrangements and measures for reducing risks and enhancing disaster preparedness and response capabilities at all times – meaning before and after a disaster strikes.
What is happening in Ifugao shows there is no efficient comprehensive DRRM plan working in the province.
It is no secret the province, like most areas in the Cordillera, is highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as typhoon and complex weather systems, as well as human-induced hazards resulting to landslides, mudslides, and flashfloods. This description is on the table every time LGUs are to craft its respective annual DRRM plans, making everybody aware and be on guard for any eventuality.
The incident in Banaue may have never happened if its leaders and residents had the foresight to protect their forest covers and thought of the effects of urbanization, which seemed to be the case when rainwater freely flowed from the mountains into the clusters of houses and establishments in downtown Banaue like a raging river.
But just as it continues to lag behind its intervention and vaccination efforts against the Covid-19, the province is also lacking in minimizing the risks and impacts when eventualities such as heavy rains hit its towns. How much more the damage would be if there was a typhoon?
As all CAR provinces are in the same boat when it comes to natural disasters, LGUs should be reminded to take DRRM seriously. As observed from recent and previous tragedies in the region both natural and man-made, many LGUs remain unprepared or not efficient in putting into action its response measures or whether these would work during contingencies.
A lot more should be done to prevent the devastating effects of disasters from occurring again.
Disaster risk reduction mitigation is not all about sending relief goods, having evacuation centers, and giving of ayuda. It should be preventive and defensive. It should include practical solutions, effective communication, clear functions of concerned agencies properly executed, and foresight of the worst scenario.
Given this turbulent time when new and abnormal situations emerge, being on top of the situation is not advantage but a must.
We understand no amount of readiness can ever be enough, especially with the changing weather patterns that for a time now have been bringing us unprecedented blows and impacts, worst being the Covid-19 pandemic that no one had prepared for.
If we are to learn from this global health scare, local leaders should really make disaster preparedness one of its highest priorities, not just crafting a DRRM plan for compliance’s sake. Since the unpredictable nature of calamities is becoming more difficult to prepare for, we need to rethink and make policies that work with both government and the public being on one page for these to work and save lives.
We have proven how resilient Filipinos are during tough times, but we do not need to endure all the time, when we can avoid it in the first place.