Prepare for environmental hazards and calamities; Disaster department in the offing

In the light of the sequence of natural calamities that have overwhelmed the Philippines and its neighboring countries recently, government officials have been forced to take action to address if not prevent the occurrence of disasters accompanying such events that could lead to the loss of lives and property for the people.

The mapping out of disaster preparedness measures and response strategies are keys that could minimize the adverse effects of such incidents on the people.

Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Renato Solidum Jr. clearly stated this during the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (PamCham) 60th General Membership Meeting recently where he was the keynote speaker.

“We cannot do away with environmental hazards and natural calamities. But we can prepare and respond to them more efficiently,” Solidum said, stressing the importance of disaster preparedness.

Solidum’s activity with businessmen is timely as it comes in the light of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that caused a tsunami which killed more than 1,400 people in Indonesia last week; the string of tropical storms that affected the Philippines in the past weeks; and the tragedies that struck Itogon, Benguet and Naga City.

Solidum, who is also Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) director, urged everyone to get involved to make communities and businesses safer and resilient to disasters through the drawing up of better disaster-mitigating programs to reduce vulnerabilities to natural hazards.

He explained that these events are common in the Philippines because of the country’s location on the western side of the Pacific Ocean which is part of the Tropical Cyclone Belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire.

An average of 20 cyclones are experienced in the Philippines annually because of the Tropical Cyclone Belt. These events bring heavy rains and strong winds that cause floods, landslides, and storm surges. He said that although the number is not projected to rise, stronger typhoons are anticipated as evidenced by the recent storms.

The Pacific Ring of Fire, aside from producing and inducing volcanic activity, also includes the fault system responsible for earth-moving, or tectonic, activity. Included in this fault system is the West Valley Fault that poses a threat to Luzon Island as its movement could cause the much-feared “Big One”, a major 7.8-magnitude earthquake that could hit Metro Manila, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.

The Phivolcs chief pointed out that while Pampanga does not lie on any active fault and might have the least casualties in case the catastrophic Big One occurs, government officials in the province must still be alert and prepared at all times.

He said Pampanga, if well-prepared, can help rescue victims and serve as an evacuation center for people that could be affected by the Big One, which, according to analyses, could injure up to 100,000 people and claim the lives of over 34,000.

Solidum also said that the government should develop the Clark International Airport (CRK) this early so it can function as the country’s main gateway in a worst case scenario.

He pointed out that Clark is “actually safe” from the Big One so the development of the Clark airport should be pushed to provide the seamless mobilization of international and domestic flights in the event NAIA closes down.

He urged government officials and the business community to work together to strengthen disaster risk governance and ensure the safety of everyone in their community.

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This may sound contradicting, callous even given the situation of the unfortunate victims, but the recent string of calamities have actually resulted in something good.

Case in point: the effects of the recent calamities have prompted the House of Representatives (HOR) to approve House Bill 8165 “Creating the Department of Disaster Resilience,” or the DDR, which is expected to improve the government’s capability for disaster risk reduction and management.

The DDR will be dedicated to disaster mitigation and quick response concerns to ensure a fast procurement process and the swift delivery of assistance in calamity-stricken areas by ensuring better coordination among national and local government agencies and focus on measures that will help communities cope with the ill-effects of various natural disasters.

The disaster department will focus on disaster through a science- and ICT-based approach and take charge of disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and response, and recovery and rehabilitation.

Representatives in Congress are appealing to the Senate to fast-track the passage of the bill as this would drastically reduce, if not totally eliminate, the bureaucratic red tape that have caused many delays in the delivery of immediate assistance needed by disaster and calamity victims.

I hope and pray that this measure helps. So many people have been affected by calamities already and languish in their condition but have not received any assistance as they have to put up with the endless politics and bickering of our fearless leaders.