Again, disaster preparedness

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Sunday, March 2, 2014


I READ with interest the report that SM Prime Holdings Inc. is proposing a mass transport system for the South Road Properties (SRP). The proposal sounds good at first glance, but a closer look at the sectors that would be displaced by it is worrisome. It looks like the city is making the SRP an enclave of this giant firm.

I understand why the Cebu City Government is trying to be cozy with SM. After all, it is a big investor at the SRP with the construction of its giant mall there. More than that, the firm is offering to buy more SRP lots, something that Mayor Michael Rama is all agog about. But that special relation should not lead to SM “monopolizing” SRP activities.

The problem is that the City and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) 7 seem bent on turning over to SM control of transport operation at the SRP by allowing it to take the lead in the setting up of a mass transport system there. With the firm’s resources, who can compete with it in running, say, buses inside the SRP?

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Both the City Traffic Operations Management (Citom) and LTFRB 7 have not been shy in saying they wouldn’t allow passenger jeepneys to operate inside the SRP.

And with Citom Executive Director Rafael Yap and SRP Manager Roberto Varquez expressing preference for a mass transport system over private vehicles, even the use of the SRP by the latter may be restricted. I may actually be wrong with my critique.

But I am worried.

***

I have raised this point a number of times, but it seemed like mine is such a small voice that government is not paying attention to it. Perhaps it would listen now that no less than a member of the country’s climate change commission and the special representative of the United Nations (UN) secretary general for risk reduction are saying it.

My suggestion has been for the National Government’s post-Yolanda rehabilitation team and local government units to use as model the experience of countries like Bangladesh in battling typhoons.

Bangladesh built cyclone (storm) shelters and coastal embankments and planted mangroves along storm surge-prone shorelines. These have resulted in the reduction of the death toll from typhoons that ravaged that country in the past several decades.

Margareta Wahlstrom, the special representative of the UN secretary general, met with mayors of the Yolanda-hit towns and city in northern Cebu and was briefed about their rehabilitation efforts. With her was the recently popular Climate Change Commissioner Yeb Sano.

Sano told the mayors to consider building storm surge shelters like those in Bangladesh. He also announced that the commission is ready to assist LGUs on the technical aspects of their action plans on disaster preparedness. The question is, were they even listening?

With summer already around the bend and the memory of Yolanda continuing to recede from our collective memories, I have a feeling that concerned government officials are also beginning to lose sight of the urgency of preparing correctly for the next disaster.

I still have to hear of Provincial Government and local government officials talk about constructing or even pinpointing evacuation centers in strategic areas in their localities that can withstand typhoon-speed winds and are safe from storm surges.

Are the no-build zones in their areas being cleared as ordered? Are the designs of houses built in Yolanda-hit areas storm-resilient?

We should not even be talking only of Yolanda-hit areas. The lessons should also be learned by communities that weren’t devastated by the super typhoon. Disaster preparedness, after all, should be everybody’s business.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 03, 2014.

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