Special Report: Under siege

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014


IN THE space of 24 days in 2013, the Visayas suffered a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that shook six provinces—mainly Cebu and Bohol—and a monster storm that ravaged 44 of the country’s 81 provinces but reserved its worst fury for the central Philippines.

The twin tragedies cost more than 6,400 people their lives, millions more their homes and livelihoods, and economic losses exceeding P573 billion, equivalent to 5.2 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

What’s worse is that the Oct. 15 Bohol temblor and the 315-kilometer-per-hour winds super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) brought last Nov. 8 may just be a harbinger of things to come.

Situated along the Pacific Ocean, where most storms form and most earthquakes occur, the Philippines is a nation under siege.

In terms of weather events, it is now the seventh riskiest country to be in, according to think tank Germanwatch, in whose Global Climate Risk Index the country ranked 14th just a year earlier.

The rapid climb in rank reinforces the Philippine government’s belief that climate change driven by global warming has increased the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and the country’s vulnerability to them.

The index measures deaths and financial losses from weather-related events like storms, floods and heat waves over a 20-year period, in this case 1993-2012.

The six riskiest countries were Honduras, Myanmar, Haiti, Nicaragua, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The rest in the top 10 were the Dominican Republic, Mongolia, and sharing 10th place, Thailand and Guatemala.

Among the top 10, the Philippines had the biggest number of weather events in the period at 311, followed by Bangladesh, 242; Vietnam, 213; Thailand, 193; Guatemala, 72; and Honduras, 65.

Grim Reaper

After the typhoon, a grim report: thousands dead and missing; residents walking amid bloated corpses; countless more in evacuation centers begging for food, medicine and water; the city unreachable as power and communication lines fell; fuel supply out, hindering clearing and relief operations; a local post-disaster response absent with
local officials victims themselves.

This was Ormoc City after typhoon Uring (Thelma) killed more than 5,000 people in the Visayas on Nov. 5, 1991, Sun.Star Cebu reported.

Almost exactly 22 years to that day, the same scene played out in Yolanda-hit Tacloban City, only with a higher body count of 6,201 and still rising.

Big jolt

On Feb. 6, 2012, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck off Tayasan, Negros Oriental, spawning a tsunami scare in Cebu and calls for more earthquake preparedness.

Two larger earthquakes have since rocked Cebu—the M7.6 temblor near Guiuan, Eastern Samar on Aug. 31, 2012, and the M7.2 Bohol temblor last Oct. 15 still spewing sizable aftershocks when Yolanda hit, illustrating the need to prepare for both types of disasters.

As the second anniversary of the Negros earthquake nears, Sun.Star Cebu probes Cebu’s vulnerability to earthquakes and typhoons and its preparations for its inevitable battle against the elements.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 04, 2014.

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