THE editorial by the national newspaper Inquirer titled “Lessons from ‘Paeng’ was dead on when it highlighted the fact that the “high death toll and extent of destruction” brought about by severe tropical storm “Paeng” (international name ‘Nalgae’), was due mainly to government’s failure to implement recommended measures to prevent such severe destruction and loss of life.
The Inquirer editorial likewise pointed out other factors that contributed to the “calamitous impact of Paeng” such as “ continuous rains from the approaching tropical storm, deforestation, silted rivers and landslides that swamped many parts of the country.” Other factors included insufficient warning provided to local officials, the erratic course of the typhoon, and the unexpected onslaught of the storm in areas rarely visited by such calamities.
From these observations, several suggestions and recommendations were put forward by the Inquirer editorial. Among them are the following: the revival of the government’s project NOAH or the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards; the tool of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology called HazardHunterPH; the enlistment by local government units (LGUs) of the youth in the creation of flyers and graphic materials that offer tips on best practices during disasters; open communication lines in the LGUs with hotlines and emergency numbers for residents to link up with; restoration of the budget of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) which was cut, and upgrade of forecasting tools being utilized by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA) weather bureau; investing in permanent shelters; providing facilities with enough privacy, working toilets and kitchens, as well as space to store relief goods, tents, rescue boats, and other disaster-related materials; enforcement of building standards, appropriate land use, vigilant environment protection, and intensive tree-planting projects in denuded areas by the DENR working with the LGUs.
All of the abovementioned suggestions and recommendations are correct and accurate, timely, and needed if we are to avert another disaster such as the one brought about by ‘Paeng’.
However, one critical component or factor which needs to be included among the mentioned suggestions and recommendations is community and people involvement. The people themselves should be allowed to participate in all preventive measures that will be implemented by the government both at the national level and at the local level if the country is to avoid another tragedy of ‘Paeng’ proportions.
One idea is to prepare individual families for certain types of disasters such as strong storms or typhoons endemic in their areas. The national government and the LGUs should invest not only in permanent shelters, relief goods, tents, and rescue boats, but should also invest in so-called basic “Go Bags” which are packed with emergency supplies needed by families. The government should make it mandatory that each household, especially in rural communities, should have a prepared and maintained “Go Bag” that contains basic emergency supplies such as but not limited to: one gallon of water per person, per day, three-day supply of non-perishable food per person and per pet; your family’s prescription medications; battery-powered or hand crank radio, flashlights, first-aid kit; wrench to turn off utilities. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/27/health/go-bag-what-to-pack-trnd-wellness/index.html)
The national government and the LGUs can provide for these “Go Bags” and it will be up to the respective households and families to maintain them and preserve their integrity for use in the event of a calamity or disaster in their community. This will logically condition the mindset of the people and families involved in the preliminary act of disaster preparedness. For a start this can be done already in areas that are regularly visited by typhoons and severe storms. How much will it cost the government? Well it will depend on how serious the government is in its mandate to save lives and property.
Another suggestion for people’s involvement is in the re-greening of denuded areas due to man-made exploitation and abuse. The national government should come out with a policy and backed up subsequently by law that would require all people ages 12 and up to 65 years, regardless of stature and rank in society, to plant a certain number of trees in a year in their community or in an area designated and specified by the government, and which they will have to nurture and care for until these grow and mature to be able to survive on their own. When it reaches a certain level of maturity, the tree or trees specified to be planted by an individual shall serve as proof for that individual to be granted monetary rewards with the amounts to be determined by the government.
Conversely instead of monetary rewards, it can also be in the form of other incentives such as scholarship grants or employment opportunities. The rewards have to be progressive up to a certain level in the survival and maturity of the trees planted. This will encourage the stakeholder and stewardship mentality in the people and will surely encourage their involvement and participation in the re-greening and reforestation of denuded areas in the country. This can be started immediately in areas where there is massive denudation and deforestation.
Finally, LGUs in flood prone areas and communities should start investing in disaster equipment and materials such as life vests and small boats that will be distributed directly to the households where it can be kept and stored and where they can be of use immediately by affected families in the event of severe flooding. These lifesaving equipment should not be distributed by the LGUs or the barangays only when flooding has already occurred.
It will be good to remember that disaster preparedness involves everyone and not just the government. When disasters or calamities strike, everyone must contribute to the effort of mitigating the catastrophe and not simply wait for dole-outs and assistance from the government. This is where community resilience is manifested.