Editorial: Heroism in disasters

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014


ON THIS holiday meant to honor our heroes, spare a thought for the barangay workers, police and rescue volunteers who risk their lives whenever emergencies, such as floods, landslides and rough weather, arise.

Workers like them barely had time yesterday to relax, even after Domeng weakened from a tropical storm to a depression, because a tornado suddenly hit Barangays Tisa and Mambaling in Cebu City. And yet it was just another day in the office for workers who respond to disasters, some of which strike without any warning.

One way we can ease their burdens is to keep ourselves and our neighborhoods updated on approaching threats, a list that now includes storm surges. On Twitter, for instance, there is no dearth of reliable information from credible sources, including Dr. Mahar Lagmay (@nababaha) of Project NOAH and Climate Change Commissioner Naderev “Yeb” Sano (@YebSano).

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Yet for all the noise and conversations the microblogging site can create, it still reaches only a connected minority in the Philippines.

Our most vulnerable communities, like many of our less connected older citizens, still expect tweets to come from birds; the idea that tweets can hold useful warnings about impending threats remains foreign. Cell phones can be lifesavers, yes, but it doesn’t help that well-meaning but gullible texters can so quickly spread panic by forwarding unverified warnings about the next Yolanda.

So, for poor riverbank settlements and households in coastal no-build zones, the difference between safety and certain injury, if not death, depends on more old-school media like AM radio and word-of-mouth. The more they know, the safer they and first responders can be in the face of disaster. An untold number of workers have suffered injuries, even died, while rescuing families who lacked the foresight to leave at-risk houses despite repeated warnings to evacuate.

Sometime before 2028, the government’s disaster preparedness plan envisions, Philippine communities will be so aware of climate risks that disaster risk reduction and management will inform planning and budgeting at all levels of government.

Let’s start by informing ourselves enough to stay out of harm’s way.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 09, 2014.

Opinion

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