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Editorial

Marked improvements

/ 05:09 AM December 05, 2019

The country has weathered another typhoon, the strongest yet this year in terms of speed, with strong winds and heavy rains that left a path of destruction particularly in Bicol and Southern Luzon.

Tropical storm “Tisoy” (international name: Kammuri) is the 20th typhoon to hit the country in 2019. It made three landfalls — in Sorsogon, Burias Island in Masbate and Marinduque — and has claimed 13 casualties as of Wednesday afternoon.

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Reports have highlighted the preparedness that local government units (LGUs), businesses and affected communities exhibited, resulting in minimal fatalities, especially when compared with typhoon “Ondoy” in 2009 and supertyphoon “Yolanda”in 2013 that killed more than 700 and more than 6,000, respectively.

Tisoy entered the Philippine area of responsibility on Nov. 30 with maximum sustained winds of up to 225 kmh, which by Wednesday had weakened to 25 kmh as the storm moved to the West Philippine Sea.

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Early warnings about its strength prompted LGUs to implement preemptive evacuations in areas on the direct path of the typhoon. More than 114,000 families, or up to 458,000 people, were evacuated across five regions by Tuesday, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

The Manila International Airport Authority shut down operations in the three terminals of Ninoy Aquino International Airport for 12 hours also on Tuesday, while several events in the ongoing Southeast Asian Games — among them wind surfing, canoe, kayak and traditional boat races in Subic; skateboarding in Tagaytay; and polo in Calatagan — had to be postponed.

In Balangiga, Eastern Samar, one of the areas that experienced the initial wrath of Tisoy, the local government carried out evacuations on Monday through “bandilyo” (announcement) using megaphones.

As the storm passed, no casualties were reported in the municipality, with Oxfam Philippines attributing it to “local leadership and preparedness in action.”

The public also noted NDRRMC’s mobile alerts which, many are probably not aware, is a public service mandated by a law — Republic Act No. 10639 enacted in 2013. The  law requires telecoms service providers to send out these alerts during disasters and calamities.

Inquirer columnist Manuel L. Quezon III wrote yesterday that while many were exasperated with the constant alerts, “this demonstrates […] that progress is being made,” especially after the need for such alerts became apparent after typhoons Ondoy and “Pepeng,” both in 2009.

But while many lives were saved from Tisoy’s fury, the destruction wrought on crops and property was more severe than initially reported. Oriental Mindoro, where two of the fatalities came from, is now under a state of calamity. Among those damaged were rice fields and high-value bananas, both ready for harvest — a main source of livelihood for Mindoro farmers.

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Power and communication lines were also affected, while several airports in Luzon and the Visayas sustained damage, including Legazpi City Airport and Marinduque Airport. But while its airport was heavily damaged, the Albay capital of Legazpi City reported zero casualties, with Mayor Noel Ebriega Rosal attributing it to the cooperation of affected residents.

Coastal communities in Albay province, however, reported that more than 600 families were left homeless, their homes literally flattened to the ground. Some of the displaced residents pleaded that they be allowed to stay in the evacuation areas until they receive government help to rebuild their homes.

International aid agency Oxfam said the displacement, especially of poor coastal residents, is a reality as climate change intensifies and results in stronger, more frequent typhoons.

At least 20 million people every year, it said in a recent report, are forced out of their homes, which translates to one person every two seconds. The Philippines, hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year, is fourth on a list of 10 countries where displacements driven by climate change are most prevalent.

Despite the physical destruction, Tisoy has highlighted marked improvements in disaster risk reduction efforts by government and affected communities. More has to be done to build on this encouraging development, especially since many coastal areas in the Philippines are under threat of inundation within three decades due to global warming.

This scenario practically puts into perennial risk those who live near coastlines, many of them among the country’s poorest citizens with no immediate resources to tap when natural disasters strike. These are the most vulnerable communities the government must help, not only when typhoons hit, but even before calamities strike.

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TAGS: disaster preparedness, Inquirer editorial, typhoon evacuations, Typhoon Tisoy
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