Where are we in our disaster preparedness timeline?

November 18, 2020, 3:01 PM

  • Eleven years ago, typhoon “Ondoy” claimed the lives of 464 people and submerged most of Marikina and many parts of Metro Manila. 
  • Last week, typhoon Ulysses submerged many parts of the same places in Marikina and Metro Manila — and caused massive flooding in Cagayan and Isabela provinces.  The death toll as of Nov. 18, is 73. 
  • We still saw the same scenes of flooding and desperate calls for help due to the onslaught of “Ulysses.
  • In 2010, Republic Act 10121 was enacted to overhaul the government’s response to calamities with the goal of ‘strengthening the country’s disaster risk reduction and management system’ and ‘institutionalizing the country’s disaster risk reduction and management and management plan’. 
  • RA 10121 gave birth to  the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDDRMC).
  • The ‘manual’ for dealing with disasters, including rehabilitation, was outlined in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (NDRRMP), which was finalized in December 2011.
  • There are several manuals prepared by government agencies on disaster preparedness — the PNP’s Oplan Saklolo for search and rescue, and the DILG’s Oplan Listo Manual for local government units’ risk reduction plans.
  • Based on the NDRRMP Timeline, the Philippines should now be in the middle of the long term implementation of disaster-proofing the country which is expected to be completed in 2028.

Eleven years after the devastation wrought by tropical storm ‘Ondoy’ (Ketsana) on September 26, 2009, we watched the same scenes of people on top of their roofs, streets covered with floodwater, people wading through waist-deep water, their possessions on their heads – in Marikina and some parts of Quezon City.

Rescuers evacuate residents from their flooded homes after Typhoon Vamco hit, in Marikina City, suburban Manila on November 12, 2020. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Two days later, we read messages of desperate pleas – and watched on various platforms of social media –more heartbreaking scenes in Cagayan and Isabela provinces, where neighborhoods and highways were covered with water.  Authorities called it “massive flooding, the worst one they had experienced.”

Climate change has a lot to do with the more severe typhoons that blow across our islands.  From Oct. 19-23, four typhoons barreled across the country — Pepito, Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses. “Rolly” was the strongest typhoon.

But together with the other weather disturbances,  from Oct. 11 to Nov. 13, eight cyclones had barreled across the country — tropical storm Nika, tropical depression Ofel, typhoon Pepito, typhoon Quinta, super typhoon Rolly, severe tropical storm Siony, tropical depression Tonyo, and typhoon Ulysses.

“Ulysses” brought strong winds and much rainfall that overflowed rivers and caused the opening of the gates of dams.

This handout aerial photo taken and received on November 14, 2020 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows residents sheltering on the roof of their flooded house in Cagayan province, north of Manila, on November 14, 2020, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard / AFP / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Our  disaster preparedness lessons were still not enough to battle the severe typhoons that have come our way. 

Let us look back and check.

After “Ondoy,” markers were erected to remember the more than 464 victims and to serve as a reminder of the importance of disaster preparedness and the need to disaster-proof communities, especially those classified as danger zones.

In 2010, Republic Act 10121 was enacted to overhaul the government’s response to calamities with the goal of ‘strengthening the country’s disaster risk reduction and management system’ and ‘institutionalizing the country’s disaster risk reduction and management and management plan’. 

The birth of NDRRMC

That was the birth to  the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDDRMC) in 2010, barely a year after ‘Ondoy’. It was empowered with policy-making, integration, supervision, monitoring and evaluation functions on matters pertaining to disaster prevention and mitigation, disaster preparedness, disaster response and rehabilitation and recovery.

One of its responsibilities is to act as the President’s adviser on disaster preparedness and rehabilitation of calamity-stricken areas and to assist in addressing the weaknesses of the local government units(LGUs) in dealing with calamities and other forms of disasters.

In a bid to expedite the national government’s response, the NDRRMC is composed of Cabinet secretaries and chaired by the Secretary of the Department of the National Defense, apparently because the agency has all the resources for disaster response courtesy of the military.

The Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) serves as the Vice Chairperson for Disaster Preparedness since LGUs are under its supervision; the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development as the  vice chairperson for Disaster Response; the Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology as the Vice Chairperson for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation; and the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority as the Vice Chairperson for Disaster Rehabilitation and Recovery. Its implementing arm is the Office of Civil Defense.

Basically, RA 10121 made sure that disaster prevention and response are integrated especially in the LGUs down to the barangay level.

Manual on Disaster Preparedness

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (NDRRMP), which was finalized in December 2011, or two years after the ‘Ondoy’ devastation, serves as the manual of the government in dealing with disasters, including rehabilitation.

Timelines 

The 17-year plan is divided into three timelines of implementation starting in 2011—Short Term, Medium Term and Long Term.

Under the Prevention and Mitigation goal of the NDRRMP on evacuation for instance, it highlighted the need to come up with an evacuation system or set of procedures.

The NDRRMP also elaborated on what needs to be done in preparing for the evacuation centers and came up with a ‘to-do list’ for an ideal temporary shelter for evacuees.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) for instance has revised its disaster preparedness and response operations “to keep abreast with the national government’s enhanced concepts on disaster risk reduction and management system’.

Oplan Saklolo

The PNP’s Oplan Saklolo concept of operation in pre-disaster stage or pro-active assessment which was finalized in 2014, emphasized the need for capability enhancement through procurement of search and rescue equipment, and periodic inspection of search, rescue, retrieval personnel and equipment to ensure operational readiness.

Oplan Listo manual

The DILG, for its part, came up with a program briefer to enhance the capacity of the LGUs on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and even came up with a disaster preparedness manual for LGUs under Oplan Listo.

“This manual assists LGUs in the formulation of disaster preparedness plans, allowing them to know if they are ready, and what they need to do to meet the minimum levels of readiness. This also assists them in planning responses to typhoons and clarifying what they need and can ask from the DILG to reinforce their capacity long before any typhoon arrives,” the manual read.

Where are we now?

Based on the NDRRMP Timeline, the Philippines should now be in the middle of the long term implementation of disaster-proofing the country which is expected to be completed in 2028.

The first timeline was 2011 to 2013 which was described to be the period when short-term goals were implemented; 2014 to 2016 as the medium-term; and 2017 to 2028 as the long-term.

But with exactly the same photos of typhoon and flood victims, typhoon ‘Ulysses’ put to question whether we are on track to meet the long-term timeline to disaster-proof our communities.

The good news 

The good news is that in the aftermath of the “Ondoy” devastation, several initiatives were undertaken in terms of identification of danger zones and the implementation of the Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards). However, the project was defunded in 2017.

Disaster response was also incorporated in the training programs of law enforcement agencies, the reason why the military, police, Coast Guard and other members of the law enforcement agencies became trained in manning search and rescue operations.

Many LGUs also took the disaster lessons seriously and even came up with good practices especially in evacuation of their respective constituents.

In Albay for instance, LGUs would only distribute relief goods in the evacuation centers to compel residents to evacuate. And when they would stubbornly insist on staying home, the LGUs would cut the power and water supply in their communities.

Prepositioning of equipment and road-clearing personnel also became a norm in many areas. The goal is to immediately clear roadblocks as a result of uprooted trees and landslides for the entry of search, rescue and relief missions.

4 years after, ‘Yolanda’

Four years after ‘Ondoy’, typhoon Haiyan, locally known as super-typhoon ‘Yolanda’ left a trail of massive destruction in Eastern Visayas which caused the death of more than 6,000 people and multi-billion peso worth of damages to infrastructure and agriculture.

Based on the NDRRMP, the year 2013 was when the Philippines should have already ended the short-term timeline of improving the country’s mitigation and response to calamities.

But given the magnitude of the devastation and that it was the strongest typhoon to make a landfall in history, Yolanda served as another ‘charge to experience’ calamity.

Specifically, ‘Yolanda’ added an additional worse-case scenario on  the drawing board of the national government’s disaster preparedness and response plans. 

Also, it provided an answer to a simple yet, important question which happened in Tacloban City and nearby areas: What if the local disaster risk reduction and management officials and offices are rendered non-functional during a calamity?    

‘Use what you can’ in rescue operations 

At the height of the flooding triggered by ‘Ondoy’, actor Richard Gutierrez had to borrow a jetski to rescue his friend Cristine Reyes and her family who were trapped in their house in Marikina.

Local residents had to use makeshift floating devices to save themselves while government rescue teams scrambled to mobilize everything that they could use to respond to the immediate needs of the affected residents to be rescued from the roofs of their houses.

That scenario exposed how ill-prepared the government was in quick and reliable disaster response for that kind of massive flooding.

Prioritize procurement of equipment

To prevent the repeat of the incident, concerned government agencies had prioritized the procurement of equipment with Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) capabilities which includes rubber boats.

In the PNP for instance, it initiated the purchase of 75 rubber boats that would be used for both internal security and disaster response in the aftermath of ‘Ondoy’.

Community-based rescue overwhelmed

At the height of the recent typhoon Ulysses, many of the LGU’s response system were overwhelmed and crippled by the flooding in many parts of Metro Manila and in the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela.

As a result, the task of search, rescue and relief was conducted by the military, Coast Guard and elite units of the PNP which had to pull out the equipment from other areas to be redeployed in the flooded areas—undermining the time element in the rescue and relief missions.

The government agencies had to scramble all the resources to be used in the rescue operations, including motorized fishing boats and even swan boats from the Burnham Park in Baguio City due to the lack of flood rescue equipment.

What to expect

For as long as the concept of disaster preparedness, response and mitigation in the NDRRMP are not cascaded properly down to the lowest government units, the same tragedy will be repeated over and over again.

And for as long as those entrusted to implement these measures are not punished for their inaction, sloppiness and lack of foresight, the tragedy of ‘Ondoy’ and “Ulysses’ are bound to happen again and will be covered up by the rhetoric of slogans like ‘Bangon’ and ‘Pinoy resiliency’.

SOURCE: https://mb.com.ph/2020/11/18/where-are-we-in-our-disaster-preparedness-timeline/