After people are back on their feet and now aware that a natural calamity can strike anytime, anywhere, the government principally must brace itself up for Odette’s second and medium-term challenge. This would be the task of preparing to minimize the damage to life and property, to hard and soft infrastructures when nature’s fury comes visiting this perennially unprepared land.

We are talking here of permanent evacuation centers and health facilities designed and built to withstand extreme weather conditions. We are talking more especially of medicine, food, water and fuel reserves, standby generators and communication back-up systems that would sustain life until substantial help arrives. Gov. Gwen Garcia’s plan to provide all barangays with a generator set is a step, albeit a small one, in this direction.

Not to be forgotten as a major component of the medium-term challenge is the need to pass laws that impose stiff penalties on contractors who shave off on the required and agreed structural strength of an evacuation center or health facility. Ditto for hoarders and profiteers of essential goods during a calamity. And because in an emergency people’s lives are on the clock, it is also of critical importance that a law is passed that cuts through the bureaucracy in the declaration of a state of calamity and the release of funds for it.

One big reason for the regions’ unpreparedness for Odette was the weather bureau Pagasa’s under-forecasting of the typhoon’s fury. It is, therefore, crucial that in the earliest possible time Pagasa’s forecasting equipment and the analytical capabilities of its operators are substantively improved.

It would also help if Pagasa established a policy of erring more on the side of over-forecasting than on under-forecasting. We have just experienced the horrible effects of preparing for a lower category storm that destroyed life and property with what turned out to be high category winds.

The Philippines is in the typhoon belt. All these medium-term preparations should have already been in place. Unfortunately they are not. It’s time people demanded from those responsible the above-mentioned medium-term disaster mitigation measures.

Medium-term because there is actually a third and long-term challenge, one that relates to the fact that when a natural calamity visits the land it is usually the poor that suffer most. This is true for all countries. But the problem in the Philippines is that here the poor are the majority. Hence the long-term challenge of minimizing poverty or reducing the poor to a minority. And since this inequality is the inevitable result of an unfair economic system, the long-term challenge is how to make our economic system fairer so the number of poor people is drastically reduced.

(Third and final challenge is next.)