Cendaña: Of Disasters and Life Skills

"LIFE is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it."

Whoever thought of this most likely intended it to be motivational which I imagine comes with a matching inspirational meme of a person's silhouette looking at a sunrise. In the context of disaster preparedness, the statement is just spot on and quite instructive. For it is the ninety percent that really matters in situations of disasters and humanitarian emergencies. In a way, preparedness is 10 percent understanding what may happen to us and 90 percent knowing how we can respond to it.

In this day and age of climate change, the 10 percent is inevitable.

Before, our grandparents spoke of one or two strong typhoons in their youth. Now, young people live with at least one every year excluding the torrential rains brought about by the more frequent and stronger habagat. The current generation is vulnerable. More than any point in history, we are most vulnerable now to the impact and threat of climate change. The Long Term Climate Risk Index (CRI) ranks countries affected by extreme weather events. In this list, the Philippines ranked fifth. 

Events in the past five years have illustrated the inevitable. Life in the Philippines especially for the youth means living with typhoons, torrential rains, storm surges, floods, earthquakes and other calamities. The challenge is to mitigate the impact of these events on the lives and well-being of people as these may result in disruption, damage to property and livelihood, and the loss of lives. Typhoon Yolanda for example being the deadliest in Philippine history affected more than 14 million people and claimed 6,000 lives. A tragedy which up to now we are still recovering from.

As with typhoons, it is also the same with earthquakes. It is not a question of "if" but rather a question of "when". The Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) is doing due diligence in informing and warning the public about the Big One as a result of the movement of the West Valley Fault. In doing so, it is not just Metro Manila that is being alerted on the imminence of a major quake but also the whole country. This prompted agencies nationwide to put in place safety, response and mitigations systems like the earthquake drills being conducted today.

In the equation of life, extreme weather events and other natural phenomena are constant. The key is balancing the equation, to mitigate the impact and prevent a natural phenomenon from becoming a catastrophe, a disaster.

The remaining 90 percent is really about life skills.

As important as academic learning is the acquisition of life skills. Life skills are the abilities and the capacity for adaptive behavior that enable and empower people to effectively deal with the demands and challenges of everyday life, external factors and extreme situations. These skills range from managing peer pressure to saying no drugs to abstaining from sex or using a condom to protect one's self from sexually transmitted infections and prevent teen pregnancy. For this generation, disaster preparedness is a crucial life skill that the youth has to learn with urgency. Preparedness greatly reduces panic and allows people to be more decisive and responsive in extreme situations. 

Knowing what to do before, during and after a disaster is a life skill that could also be life-saving.


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