Disasters are the new normal. Are we ready for them?

Categories: Business Updates

Date Posted: 07 Aug 2014

Things like contingency plans (e.g., what if it hits at night when we’re together or during the day when we’re not); emergency provisions; alternative modes of communication; survival procedures; and psychological preparedness.

The fault line starts from the Sierra Madre near Angat, cuts through Metro Manila, passes Laguna, and extends to Carmona, Cavite.

A study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency for the Metro Manila Development Authority, complemented by a three-year risk analysis by the Australian government, provides a chilling scenario of death and destruction. The study concluded that such an event would cause around 37,000 deaths and 600,000 injuries.

A high incidence of building collapse would be evident in western Marikina, Pasig and Quezon City. Fire, aftershocks and liquefaction will add to the carnage. Those that failed to follow the current building code and relocate from endangered areas would bear the brunt of the quake and its aftermath. Residents north and south of the Pasig would be isolated for a time from each other should the bridges collapse.

The dreaded quake would destroy or damage buildings up to a floor area of 1,100 hectares worth an estimated P2.4 trillion. A top-of-mind concern is the loss of water supply from Angat Dam to Metro Manila that accounts for around 97% of our needs for consumption, industry and commerce; and a source for irrigation and power. Fires will be difficult to contain. Doctors and hospitals will be overwhelmed. Supplies will quickly run out.

With proper mitigation, the damage would naturally be less. The question is: to what degree is the government, business, civil society and the community preparing to mitigate risks and address anticipated effects? Is there a conscious and persistent integrated effort to organize, build capacities and emergency response networks, and acquire the necessary resources to effectively deal with and eventually recover from such a catastrophe?

Fortunately, multi-hazard and risk maps for Mega Manila are now in the hands of 24 local chief executives, including the vulnerability and exposure database containing physical information, population and socioeconomic characteristics of communities. While these can be accessed through the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology’s website, the government should endeavor to disseminate this information to all concerned, to serve as their underlying basis to get ready.

The maps take into account the disaster risk to populations, existing infrastructure and increasing risks for various scenarios such as earthquake, severe winds, flood, landslides and liquefaction. A smart, systematic and cost-effective approach to disaster preparedness requires extensive information dissemination. This is one compelling instance when communication redundancy is imperative to manage the fear factor for the purpose of getting everyone to be ready at any time.

Metro Manila is the seat of government and the heart of the economy. Neglecting preparedness is in itself a national security risk, a gross dereliction of duty, and a great disservice to the nation. In the event the West Valley Fault quakes as feared, inadequate disaster risk reduction and integrated crisis management will impact on lives, property and the economy. Hence, any plan must include adjoining regions, which must be ready to help out from Day One.

Disasters could strike anywhere, as proven by recent catastrophes like Ondoy, the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Bohol, and Yolanda (considered to be the most powerful super-typhoon in recorded human history). Local residents, NGOs, aid agencies and the media took note of the government’s performance and described it as slow, disorganized, inadequate, uncoordinated, mismanaged, partisan and uninformed.

I wonder what the outcome would have been:

• If principals of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council were not dispatched to Tacloban just before Yolanda struck and manned instead their stations in Camp Aguinaldo to provide oversight, cut red tape, and maximize inter-agency and national-local government efficiency? Would things have turned out differently?

• Had public funds not been serially plundered, some of which could have gone to human and ecological security?

• If the information about Yolanda’s strength was accurate and disseminated way beforehand?

• Had the natural draining floodplains been kept free of debris, uplands forested, and mangroves preserved?

• If local governments had a land use plan that absorbed the lessons from previous disasters, and strictly enforced the rules?

• Had power and telephone lines been underground? Disaster relief and recovery might have gone faster and better managed.

The jury is still out on Yolanda. Estimating the total loss remains challenging, but by word of mouth the pieces of the puzzle show a horrific toll: at least 10,000 people, 100,000 fishing boats, one million dwellings and 30 million coconut trees were feared lost to Yolanda. This year’s GDP growth estimates have been pulled back as a result. Rehabilitation czar Ping Lacson has a lot on his shoulders to get the herculean job done before the 2016 elections.

Imagine a Yolanda super-typhoon hitting Metro Manila directly. Extreme weather is the new normal. Climate change adaptation is a must. Granted that we won’t be able to prevent disasters from happening, its impact can still be mitigated by being pro-active. It can be done with leadership and long-term commitment.

The business sector must adapt to climate change. It must go through the exercise of calculating the benefits from preparedness versus the costs of unpreparedness. Investing in risk reduction and crisis management will safeguard their company’s resources, and assure cost-effective recovery and business continuity. Some firms estimate their savings to be $7 in replacement costs for every dollar invested in preparedness. There’s the business case right there.

And what if the Ebola problem reaches our shores? Are we getting ready now to shield the nation from its spread and to cure whoever contracts it? Regardless of the risks we face from natural disasters or pandemics, the credibility and reputation of public and private sector leaders are on the line and, more importantly, the wellbeing of their stakeholders.

Rafael M. Alunan III is former secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Source: http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=Disasters-are-the-new-normal.-Are-we-ready-for-them?&id=92099&utm_source=Arangkada+News+Clips&utm_campaign=1ea1854273-Arangkada_News_Clips_8_06_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_08e85a2ab1-1ea1854273-45556473

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