Getting Prepared

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IN TIMES OF DISASTER, how prepared are we?

IN LIGHT of the recent devastation wrought by successive hurricanes on the Carribean islands, including Texas and Florida in mainland USA, it is time to ask ourselves how prepared are we in coping with natural disasters. There is urgency in doing this, precisely because we may have been lulled into complacency, not having been in harm’s way ourselves, comforted by the thought that the calamity occurred several thousand miles away from our personal comfort zones.

Let’s never forget that our country, archipelagic as it is, lies in the Pacific Rim of Fire, a natural breeder of killer-weather systems, a natural fertile ground for earth-shakers. Let’s also be constantly reminded that about 25 extreme weather events visit and afflict us a year, putting our populace very much along their deadly path. Had the powerful hurricanes that pummelled the carribean island nations and communities came our way, it’s unimaginable how horrendous the damage was, how catastrophic the affliction had been.

In fact, recent meteorological studies reveal that the destructive power of typhoons, bred from the Pacific Ocean and regularly visiting Asia, Japan, the Korean peninsula, the Philippines and its neighbor Asean nations, have intensified in the last 40 years. Why has this been so? Simply stated, it’s due to warming seas. Ondoy and Yolanda of recent memory killed over 6,000 people, leaving a swath of destruction unparalleled in modern history. Those were tragedies that remain deeply etched in the national consciousness, whose lessons we seem not to have taken seriously to this belated day.

The lamentable factr is that the Philippines is a disaster-prone country, ranking among the most vulnerable places around the world. Nearly a decade since Ondoy and just 3 years from Yolanda, how prepared are we should, god forbid, another catastrophic event of greater magnitude hit us? Have we in fact made our coastal communities more resilient to weather disturbances like storm surges? Have we relocated our shoreline population to higher, safer grounds? How about our mountain communities, the very areas which have historically shown vulnerability to landslides and soil erosions? What have we done to motivate residents in these places to get out of harm’s way and live out of danger zones? Hasn’t it been clear enough that these places are where more fatalities would be listed up when and if a natural disaster strikes?

In sum, we know we live in dangerous times, being faced with disasters that may strike anytime, anyplace. We realize the chances of us being victims are on the high side, but are we doing enough to mitigate and reduce the risk of being unwillingly victimized when nature strikes back, as it is doing now in many places around the world. Regardless of where we are — whether perched on mountainous ground, or living it out on flatland in rural or urban places, or breezing it along wave-lashed seacoast — we are vulnerable to climate change-induced, nature-striking events. Getting prepared long before is getting ourselves out of nature’s vengeful ways.

There is constant need to re-visit contingency plans in coping with disasters, before, during and after. ABCs must be deeply instilled, along with the XYzs and all the letters in between. Skills have to be sharpened even more. Resources should be in harness. Responses have to be checked out, timed to the fastest maximum.

Obviously, education will play a key role in disaster risk preparation. Communities need to know if residents are living in precariously situated danger zones. Knowing is the first step; acceptance of the known risk should suffice to motivate relocation of life and property, not evacuation when the disaster has become face-to-face. Towards this end, our local anti-disaster officials must always be on the frontline in the effort to let vulnerable residents be aware and amply motivated to act appropriately.

Finally, we need to identify and capacitate every sector involved in community preparation, specifically those with whom strong partnerships on the ground can be forged — the barangay, the schools, the business establishments, the church and civic groups. How effective, how strong, and how dynamic are the linkages that bind the on-the-ground partnerships? Is the monitoring system actively in place for regular checkups of plans and programs? Are there short-term, medium-term and long-term action mechanisms? How fast can responses be done?

In these trying times, it’s not enough to know what may lie ahead. For we all know that natural disasters are not as destructive when they come. It is the aftermath when the bell tolls the tragedy that could have been averted in less catastrophic terms.

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