Natural disasters: The new normal
Even by Philippine standards, we’ve had an unusual mix of natural disasters. Since April 2019, we have had earthquakes in Zambales (at magnitude 6.1; most heavily felt in Porac, Pampanga); Itbayat, Batanes (magnitude 5.9, July); and a series of earthquakes in fairly rapid succession in Cotabato and other parts of southwest Mindanao (from magnitude 6.5, October to December).
We also had our usual run of 20 typhoons closing out the year with Typhoons “Tisoy” (international name: Kammuri) and “Ursula” (Phanfone), the last one hitting parts of the Philippines on Christmas Day.
And now, we’ve opened 2020 with the eruption of Taal Volcano on Jan. 12 and the rapid spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the region.
Welcome to the new normal: the world of natural disasters. It’s a world that will likely keep on this trend, so we are going to have to learn to deal with it and prepare for it.
When we were founded in 2009, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) was originally set up to respond to natural disasters after they had occurred. We went into disaster relief mode in the immediate aftermath of disasters and then into recovery mode to try to restore things back to normal and strengthen them against future occurrences. In 2013, through Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan), we saw that nature had changed and realized that our planning paradigm had to shift along with it.
As we mobilized for relief and recovery during the immediate post-Yolanda period, we began our shift and reorganization into an enterprise focused on resilience. We identified four main natural risks and began to prepare for them: typhoons, earthquakes, volcanoes, and pandemics. Little did we realize that in just a matter of years, several of these risks could arise in quick succession and even simultaneously as we are now seeing.
We opened our prototype Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in June 2016 and our expanded EOC in Clark in April 2018. In 2019, we saw the pace of work change as the extra challenge of multiple earthquakes began to get into the mix of the usual typhoons. Fortunately, a network of corporations organized into eight clusters has always been ready to respond to help communities in times of need. All told, the PDRF has 100 companies working across these clusters, each able to supply a critical item during an emergency, from line repairmen for power and telecommunications, to water supply, generators and fuel, relief goods, medical assistance, and logistics services (trucking and air freight). By assembling these pieces into a cohesive package of assistance, the PDRF has been able to work closely with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and different government agencies to deliver help to disaster-stricken areas.
From January to November 2019, the PDRF mobilized 1,800,000 liters of drinking water, 91 metric tons of relief goods, and 88,000 ready-to-eat meals and family food packs, for instance. This excludes items mobilized for Typhoons Tisoy and Ursula, Mindanao earthquakes, and Taal Volcano, which still presents an ongoing danger.
Preparing for this new normal has involved a lot of planning and training across a broad sector of society—communities and barangays (which we do through our Community Resilience program); micro-, small-, and medium-scale businesses (our Business Continuity Program); national and local government (our Service Continuity Program); large businesses and NGOs (through PrepLab); and other specialized training programs.
Another level of preparedness lies in investing in better, stronger infrastructure. Programs such as Safe Schools (with the Department of Education), Safe Hospitals (with the Department of Health), Getting Airports Ready for Disasters (with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the United Nations Development Programme, and DHL), and Safe Ports (with the Philippine Ports Authority and private and international partners) will all now need to be accelerated to cope with the new normal.
Finally, our third level of preparation (actually the basis for all actions) is the investment in science. We can’t say enough about the work and efforts of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), which monitors our active volcanoes and earthquake fault systems to give us a better understanding of what’s happening and how to stay safe. Their scientific research and continuous monitoring of Taal Volcano prepare us for what lies ahead. We owe it to them, and ourselves, to carefully listen to the signs that Nature is sending us.
Thank you, Phivolcs.
Guillermo M. Luz is chief resilience officer of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (www.pdrf.org).
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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