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Fair warning

/ 10:58 PM October 18, 2013

Comes again the question in the wake of the devastating temblor that hit Central Visayas and parts of Mindanao: Is Metro Manila, a city of some 10 million people, prepared for a major earthquake?

Two studies suggest that, in the event of a 7.2-magnitude shocker similar to that which struck on Tuesday, the damage to the nation’s capital would be catastrophic. The Metro Manila Impact Reduction Study, completed in 2004 by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, the Metro Manila Development Authority, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, ran up some seriously frightening numbers: 35,000 fatalities, 500 simultaneous fires in up to 98,000 buildings, and 170,000 collapsed structures.

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According to a more recent risk analysis project, a three-year collaboration between the Australian and Philippine governments, an earthquake of that magnitude could kill 37,000 persons, injure some 604,000 more, and cause damage to buildings amounting to P2.4 trillion. The study—which cost Aus$5.5 million and was funded by the Australian Agency for International Development with the technical support of Geoscience Australia and in collaboration with local government agencies such as the Office of Civil Defense, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Phivolcs and National Mapping and Resource Information Authority—identified the same culprit pinpointed by the 2004 study: the West Marikina Valley Fault.

The fault, said to be one of the Philippines’ most active, cuts from the Sierra Madre mountains in the north down to Cavite, Quezon City, Bulacan, Rizal, and the eastern part of Metro Manila, which includes the cities of Pasig, Taguig and Muntinlupa, and the towns of San Pedro and Santa Rosa in Laguna, all the way to Tagaytay. The Philippines itself is part of the “Ring of Fire,” a circumferential area in the Pacific basin where the presence of a chain of active volcanoes results in frequent seismic activities.

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The map shows that the West Marikina Valley Fault sits uncomfortably close to heavily populated and well-developed places in the metro. In Quezon City, the Ateneo de Manila campus as well as the Eastwood City commercial area are within a mere two kilometers of the fault line, which also cuts through the Loyola Grand Villa Subdivision before running southward into Barangay Barangka in Marikina City. In Pasig, it sits cheek by jowl with the posh villages of Greenmeadows and Valle Verde.

In fact, said the 2004 study, seven of Metro Manila’s 10 cities are bound to suffer the greatest damage and casualties. On top of the projected 35,000 fatalities and 170,000 collapsed structures, a 7.2-magnitude quake will also result in 340,000 residential houses partly damaged, 114,000 injured, and, in the fires seen to break out soon after, some 18,000 persons more felled by the disaster.

These are sobering numbers, and we can only hope the government has not only taken urgent note of them but has also put in place contingency measures to mitigate the resulting massive destruction. “We may not be able to prevent disasters, but we can empower ourselves and our communities to reduce casualties and damages to properties and economic resources,” said Eduardo del Rosario, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The cue should begin with the government, in terms of stricter monitoring and more frequent inspection of buildings and structures to ensure that they comply with stringent safety standards; a sustained information campaign to equip citizens with the know-how to prepare for and survive earthquakes and similar disasters; the formation of well-trained and well-equipped rapid response teams; and, not least, the proper funding of such programs, to ensure that adequate tools and enough relief supplies are available for immediate deployment the moment the dreaded event happens.

Metro Manila’s misery and immediate paralysis in the face of extreme storms such as “Ondoy” and “Maring” is a bracing reminder that much remains to be done at this time to render the country prepared for a major disaster. And while predicting the exact occurrence of earthquakes remains a science of probabilities and caveats, the extensive damage that Bohol sustained—the loss of over 100 lives is tragic, but the minimal number is also a relief—should serve as fair warning. We need to get cracking on preparedness—now.

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TAGS: Disaster, disaster preparedness, Earthquake, Editorial, JICA, Metro Manila, Metro Manila Impact Reduction Study, MMDA, opinion, Phivolcs, West Marikina Valley Fault
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