Prompt, adequate aid needed
We can spin this story into a quirky tribute to good ole Filipino ingenuity. Schoolteachers in Abra and Davao del Sur have been featured in TV reports for turning coconut husks into helmets for use by their students during earthquakes. While no studies have yet been conducted on the durability of these “cocomets” and their ability to protect the heads of children from falling debris, the unusual gear certainly provides far more protection than schoolbooks or lengths of cardboard or even just fragile hands as students scamper for safety.
But isn’t there something pathetic about trumpeting an innovative approach to earthquake protection, however primitive, in the midst of a series of natural disasters that should have led to far more serious and studied responses from government and the private sector?
The need is certainly urgent. A magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck Tulunan, Cotabato last Oct. 31, on the tail of a previous temblor two days before in the same area that measured 6.6 on the Richter scale. The two quakes trailed a previous one that took place about two weeks previously. Affected were not just the towns of Cotabato and South Cotabato, but even of Davao, Davao del Sur, Sarangani, and the cities of Kidapawan, Koronadal, General Santos, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
Reports have placed the number of dead in the Mindanao earthquakes at 16, while 403 were injured. Certainly dramatic were photos of buildings—malls, hotels, condominiums and commercial spaces—that had crumbled as a result of the temblor.
On-the-spot interviews with survivors showed not just how shaken up these folks were, but also how desperate they were, with some tearfully recounting how they did not even have a source of potable water for their daily needs. The prompt and adequate response of everyone, be it the government, the private sector or civil society, to ease the plight of all those who survived the frightening events is imperative.
The country could and should learn its lessons from this string of calamities, especially since the Philippines is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which makes the country vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Aside from these, the country is also said to be at the “epicenter” of the impacts of climate change, with weather disturbances occurring more frequently with greater intensity, and climate conditions linked to drought, floods and rising and waning sea levels. All of which have implications on the nation’s food security and increasing exposure to weather-related diseases.
For years now, Filipinos have reminded each other of the impending occurrence of the “Big One,” the major earthquake that is expected to hit Mega Manila which straddles a major earthquake fault. But as the series of quakes hitting Mindanao shows, one does not need to experience the “Big One” to prepare, as in right now, for the possibility of a major disaster.
In other countries, regular drills are being carried out especially in schools to prepare citizens to respond not just to earthquakes, but also to typhoons, fires and other disasters. In Japan, it’s said, everyone who enters a high-rise is given a brief orientation on what to do in the event disaster takes place, and in some places helmets and whistles are even given out for use in case of an emergency.
To be fair, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority stages about once a year an earthquake drill, mainly to test the readiness of government first responders and that of the public to follow the right procedures for orderly rescue and evacuation.
Still, the Mindanao temblors are a reminder that we still need to do more of, and do so more frequently, the steps to keep as many of our citizens safe from harm. By now, perhaps the traumatized residents of Cotabato and Davao and other parts of Mindanao are on heightened alert for even the slightest sign of impending disaster. The rest of their fellow citizens offer them utmost prayers and support, urge the government to come to their aid quickly, and wish that they somehow be protected from further harm, and in the near future share their learnings on survival and resiliency.
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