Save Project Noah
The state-run rain and flood forecasting system called Project Noah was formed in 2012, shortly after the massive destruction wrought by Tropical Storm “Sendong” late in 2011. It was meant to provide “a more accurate, integrated, and responsive disaster prevention and mitigation system, especially in high-risk areas” nationwide.
Aside from a six-hour lead-time warning on impending floods to vulnerable communities, Noah (for Nationwide Operation Assessment of Hazards) also provides—through its website and social media accounts—real-time weather data as well as high-resolution flood, landslide, and storm surge hazard maps. So useful was the mobile app Arko that it was awarded the UN World Summit Awards Mobile Content under the e-Inclusion and Empowerment category in 2014, besting 450 other international mobile applications in showing how information technology can be applied to empower social groups.
Alas, such initiatives have gone largely unappreciated. Over the weekend, Mahar Lagmay, executive director of Project Noah, said it would shut down on Feb. 28 due to lack of funds.
On Monday, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña clarified that the state weather bureau, Pagasa, would take over the operational aspect of Noah’s delivered outputs and technologies. That means its tools will now be used, adopted and institutionalized, he said.
Still, the fact is that having delivered the expected outputs, Noah will now be torpedoed, with only 5 of its remaining 40 researches possibly absorbed by Pagasa, as Dela Pena himself admitted.
The news couldn’t have come at a worse time, as record volumes of rains have triggered floods down south, notably in Northern Mindanao and Caraga. Deforestation and changing climate patterns have also caused unexpected heavy flooding in low-lying areas in several provinces, resulting in loss of lives, property and livelihood. Ironically, these were the same conditions that prompted the creation of what then President Benigno Aquino III had hoped would be like the biblical Noah’s ark, where typhoon disaster victims could seek shelter and succor.
Lagmay lamented the stony silence that greeted Project Noah’s request for the extension of its mandate, and the long wait—up to five months—for staff salaries, which had contributed to the loss of half of its team: “40 well-trained, skilled, and experienced scientists.”
The delays, which began even during the Aquino administration, indicated lack of support for and plain insensitivity to the plight of the overworked Noah personnel. Said Lagmay: “What’s more important to me is the human resource. After Feb. 28, all these well-trained, experienced people will disband… It’s hard to lose all these people because disaster work isn’t just all that we did. We had just touched the tip of the iceberg.”
As this crucial project withers for lack of funds, the Office of the President (OP) is literally awash in wherewithal. Its allocation in the P3.35-trillion budget of 2017 is P20.03 billion, or P17 billion more than the OP’s P2.87-billion allocation in 2016.
The huge (600.35 percent) increase in the OP budget is due to the Philippines’ hosting of the Asean Summit this year, according to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who incidentally assailed the Aquino administration for supposedly spending too much on the Apec summit in 2015.
The OP’s P20.03-billion budget will be used mainly for intelligence activities related to President Duterte’s war on drugs, crime and corruption, per Diokno. But what about, say, the Presidential Communications Office’s allocation of more than P230 million? Does it need that much to burnish the presidential image? And why is that a bigger priority than the lives and livelihood of thousands that would be saved should Project Noah be kept as it is?
Feb. 28 is weeks away, and just three months short of the typhoon season in June. Will there be enough time to source funds from allied departments—agriculture, local government, science and technology—to give Project Noah another lease on life so it can continue its life-saving researches?
Shutting down the agency that helped save lives during recent calamitous typhoons is nothing short of disastrous.
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