A couple of weeks back, the country had again been hit by massive flooding, one of the worst in recent history, no thanks to President Aquino for cancelling the flood control projects initiated by his predecessor, resulting in countless lives being lost, with billions of pesos in damaged properties and thousands of families being displaced.
How ironic for failing to come up with an honest-to-goodness disaster preparedness program to substitute for the programs he had cancelled as Aquino obviously failed to take into consideration that the Philippines is one of the world’s most calamity-prone countries.
According to the United Nations, nearly half of the country can be classified as “disaster-prone areas,” placing us third behind tiny Tonga and Vanuatu in the Pacific. From floods alone, the country suffered $1.23 billion of destruction and the loss of over 3,000 lives over the period 1990-2007.
Global warming and climate change have only worsened the situation. Typhoons can hit with unexpected severity in the most unexpected places. In 2009, the damage from Ondoy and Pepeng exceeded $4 billion — more than triple the previous two decades — with nearly a thousand lives lost. Also in 2009, Northern Mindanao was hit by Auring, and again in 2011 by the much more severe Sendong, which took over 1,500 lives.
As the country enters the middle of this year’s typhoon season, with more expected to come (up to 20 a year), it is timely to review the history behind the nation’s flood preparedness. It is important to understand why a palpable sense of dread, never seen in previous years, seems now to settle over the people every time the storm clouds gather overhead.
In response to the disaster wrought by Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, former President Gloria Arroyo came up with the following multi-layer response:
Enactment of Disater Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121) and issuance of Executive Order (EO) 888 on a Strategic National Action Plan (SNAP) for calamity response and reduction. These two documents, drafted with extensive inputs from various disaster experts, provide the legal policy framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR) all the way down to the community level.
Establishment of a Special National Public Reconstruction Commission (SNPRC), chaired by the Department of Finance, and its private sector counterpart, the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF), originally chaired by business leader Manny Pangilinan and Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of Cebu. These two bodies were created to raise funds and draft plans for post-typhoon reconstruction in Panay and Luzon, as well as to undertake studies on preventing future mega-disasters.
Endorsement by both bodies to the incoming President Aquino of about P10 billion in projects for funding earmarked by Congress in the 2010 budget. This was in addition to over P8 billion in recovery work that was funded by realigned agency budgets. These projects formed part of a Reconstruction Master Plan for the Ondoy and Pepeng areas from 2010-2012.
Submission by both bodies of two draft Executive Orders. One would integrate and better maintain the disparate flood warning and control operations of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa ), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), as well as dam operators the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and the National Power Corporation (Napocor), to improve early warning of communities in the path of floodwaters.
The other EO would create a multi-stakeholder commission to draft a long-term integrated plan (the so-called “delta plan”) for infrastructure, land use, water resources and watershed management in the Pasig River delta and Laguna de Bay, using state of the art modeling and expert advice from international consultants, including experts from the Netherlands with its world-famous sea dikes.
The SNAP plan per EO 888, as drafted by the Office of Civil Defense, prioritized five actions:
Governance – Disaster risk reduction should be supported by major legislation and government programs like the Medium Term Phil Development Plan (MTPDP)
Risk identification, assessment, monitoring, and early warning systems – To get people quickly out of harm’s way
Knowledge management and education – To instill risk reduction information and practices, not just in government agencies, but also in the minds and behavior of ordinary citizens
Risk management and vulnerability reduction – Such as flood control projects and the proper planning of residential and commercial construction projects
Disaster preparedness for effective response and recovery – Well trained and equipped rescue teams; financial arrangements like calamity insurance in order to quickly mobilize resources for medical, livelihood, and rebuilding needs.
Bottom line: There was a real legacy bequeathed to when he assumed office in July 2010, including the necessary funds, nearly P10 billion in concessional Japanese loans and a pending $250 million credit from the World Bank (WB). He was handed a complete disaster manual just waiting to be implemented.
(Tomorrow: How Aquino squandered that legacy)