Monday, February 20, 2006

The prevailing disaster response system in the country is reactive, emergency-focused, and relief centered

Citizens' Disaster Response Center
72-A Times St. West Triangle, Quezon City

February 18, 2006*

On the Recent Flashfloods and Landslides

The whole nation was shocked upon the news that more than one thousand five hundred (1,500) persons are missing and feared dead because of the landslide that put under mud and boulders an entire community. The landslide is believed to be caused by more than two weeks of incessant rains followed by a mild tremor. The confirmed death toll as of 11 PM last night was nineteen (19) and so far, 58 survivors. But the numbers of the casualties are expected to rise today, and the days ahead -- as chances of survival ticks away with every minute that passes.

Every year, an average of 317 disaster occurances affect an average of 9 M Filipinos.

Over the last ten years, there are increasing disaster occurances and increasing number of persons affected. The number of the affected individuals in 1995 was 9.9 M in 408 disaster occurances. The figures increased to 10.4 M persons in 440 disaster occurances.

Eyewitness accounts have it that they heard bomb-like sounds and within minutes, it was over. Not one structure in the community was left standing. The whole area was covered with mud and boulders. An entire school with 246 students, 6 teachers, and their principal are were buried under mud while holding their classes.

Those that were recovered by rescuers were described as exhausted and helpless, some with breath, as the only sign of life.

The scope and intensity of the disaster forced rescuers to use a payloader truck to quickly excavate bodies and possible survivors in the fatal landslide. Only a handful of rescuers were immediately deployed to the scene.

The Regional Health Unit and the District Hospital also have their hands full. The lack of staff and medicines is a big problem for medical emergencies like this. Doctors report that all the survivors were able to swallow dirty water and mud. More than half of the patients could succumb to lung infection within 24 hours unless treated.

Limited resources could not accommodate the needs of the survivors and evacuees. Retrieval operations are hampered by various factors.

On how we feel regarding today's disaster is actually no different on how we felt on previous news of disasters and tragedies that befell our country.

But who was prepared for this? Certainly not a country which ranks 7th in the world's most disaster-prone; not a government which allots more than 30% of its annual budget to foreign debt servicing while setting aside a measly .1% for calamity funds; not legislators so busy dancing the CHA-CHA while vulnerable sectors are swept away by flashfloods or buried by mudslides throughout the country. Yes, thousands of lives continue to be lost and destroyed each time a disaster strikes the country. But the sad fact remains that despite previous experiences of similar events, the government remains inutile in exerting effort for disaster resiliency and post disaster rehabilitaion.

One would assume that given these disaster realities, a comprehensive disaster management system and program should have already been in place and a separate government body that gives special and undivided attention to the many tasks of disaster management has been formed.

Dissapointingly, the prevailing disaster response system in the country is reactive, emergency-focused, and relief centered.

Actions must not only be taken when the damage has been done. But more so, serious disaster mitigation programs should be practiced to decrease or eliminate destruction of lives and properties.

The government should take on concrete measures to address the causes of people's vulnerability to disasters. At the same time, build the people's capacity toward disaster resiliency through a more comprehensive approach to disaster management. ###

For reference, pleace contact Catharina Ann Berza at tel # 9299822

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