Editorial: Setbacks-A A +A
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
THE Talisay City residents who woke last Monday to the seawater rushing into their shanties won’t be amused by one Malacañang official’s glib advice. If you want to avoid weather disasters, he said, follow the weather bureau on Twitter.
Fortunately, the affected residents—estimated at 138 families—in seven coastal barangays knew better than that. Most left for safer ground until the storm surge passed. A good move, considering that portions of the sea wall that had been built to protect them collapsed. But television news footage showed the families returning to their homes after yesterday’s high tide.
And this raises some familiar questions. Why do these residents persist in flirting with disaster, and why do local officials let them?
Under Article 51 of the Water Code, the area three meters from the edge of a river or the seashore should be kept free from any structure. In agricultural areas, that easement or setback zone should be at least 20 meters; in forest areas, 40 meters.
There is no setback zone to speak of in the affected communities of Talisay. The houses at risk sprawl right beside the sea wall. This makes for very dramatic images in rough weather, the large waves breaking and collapsing on those who live a literally marginal existence between land and sea.
True, the construction of sea walls is an accepted, even recommended, part of community-based disaster risk management. But it is only part of the answer.
Such management must include equipping the nearest authorities—in this case, the barangay officials—for first aid and primary health care. A more long-term response includes teaching communities the foresight to reforest slopes and coasts (with mangroves, for example). An essential but politically risky response is to clear the shore’s setback zones of inhabitants.
When the coast is smooth and the weather clear, however, all talk of disaster preparedness flees.
In 2009, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies studied the quality and cost benefit of disaster preparedness programs in the Philippines. It found out that in many barangays, disaster preparedness plans were not consistently updated nor incorporated into their towns’ plans and budgets. In the meantime, “physical mitigation structures (like sea walls) are deteriorating.” How long these will suffice for protection is anyone’s guess.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 01, 2012.