Editorial: Preparing for a rainy day-A A +A
Sunday, August 12, 2012
DISASTER mentality or disastrous mentality?
Many Cebuanos feel that Cebu will never experience the flash floods that submerged several communities in Metro Manila and nearby provinces during the four days of heavy rains brought about by the southwest monsoon.
Some say that Cebu is not like Manila, with its major dams and rivers that quickly overflow after heavy, prolonged rain. Others attribute the province’s protection from calamities to the Señor Sto. Niño de Cebu.
Yet, if there is one insight to be learned from last week’s “habagat” crisis, it is: let us not be complacent.
Defense by foresight
In recent years, Cebuanos have been inducted to flash floods succeeding heavy rainfall. We have yet to decisively correct conditions that cause the problem or set off a chain of consequences of rising magnitude.
There’s the denudation of watersheds and lack of green space in urban centers that mean that a cloudburst can quickly saturate the soil and create the overflow that builds up to floods, as well as landslides.
Barangay officials have to enforce the law prohibiting people from settling in risky areas: under bridges, near cliffs and areas prone to landslides, on or adjacent to bodies of water.
Floods respect no socio-economic boundaries: well-off residents in subdivisions and slum dwellers deal with the consequences of indiscriminate dumping of garbage.
And as the situation in Metro Manila underlines that after the rains have gone and floodwaters have subsided, our trash find their way to sender after we leave them by the roadside or chuck them into rivers or the sea. The flash floods brought together old and new trash to be disposed of.
Addressing human settlements and solid waste management in the short term and ecological rehabilitation in the long term should help Filipinos change the now instinctive reflex of anxiety and flight with which they greet the pitter-patter sound of rain falling on the rooftop.
Education, rescue and relief
The government and private sector, particularly the media, should vigorously pursue this advocacy of educating the public about disaster preparedness. Radio and TV stations were at the forefront of disseminating survival strategies that would have been even more useful if they were not aired at the peak of the flooding crisis, when people were scrambling out of harm’s way or households were cut off from electricity or the use of radio and TV sets.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pag-asa) should work with mainstream media, bloggers and other New Media activists to educate the public, particularly in explaining innovations meant to protect lives and property, such as the recently piloted rainfall warning system. Despite persisting doubts about the accuracy of Pag-asa forecasting, persons and institutions still rely on the agency to sound the alert before disaster occurs.
The constraints and challenges of rescue and relief efforts in Metro Manila and other inundated areas underscore the dire need to acquire modern rescue equipment and improve processes to systematize assistance and reach communities and individuals in inaccessible places. In a statement, Rep. Arnel Ty of the LPG-MA party-list has argued that community leaders coordinate with jet ski-owning individuals and resorts to supplement inadequate equipment for rescue efforts.
The need for motorized inflatable boats, modern rescue equipment, and life vests and other safety gear for rescue teams should be prioritized by the government, as well as private companies that consider donating equipment and sponsoring trainings for rescue and relief as part of corporate social responsibility.
President Benigno Aquino III has griped that the reluctance of residents to leave homes before flash floods worsened exacerbated the difficulties of last-minute rescue missions and endangered the lives of both the rescuer and the rescued. However, based on many incidents of looting of homes even under water, people have a reason for protecting with their lives valuable property they need for survival and sustenance.
Community leaders and residents should consider devising a system of monitoring and preparedness during calamities. A community-based system may work better to warn and mobilize residents for early evacuation, as well as protect property from those who exploit panic and misfortune.
The courage, fortitude and “bayanihan” of Filipinos were tested and found of sterling quality by last week’s monsoon floods. To repeat the message, we should not be complacent. We must prepare for rainy days ahead—now, while the sun is shining.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 13, 2012.