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Threats and lessons from ‘Ruby’

/ 04:25 AM December 05, 2014

As I write this, the country is on tenterhooks about the arrival of Typhoon “Ruby” but, I would think, especially the residents, or rather the survivors, of Tacloban and environs. All too familiar are they with the damage and destruction and heartbreak wrought by a supertyphoon.

Just recently, they marked the first anniversary of “Yolanda,” which at the time was the strongest, most savage weather disturbance to make landfall—ever. We’ll know for sure in the next few days whether Yolanda’s wrath will be exceeded by Ruby’s. Or whether it will live up to its international name of “Hagupit,” which in Filipino means an unrelenting whipping, or adhere to the more benign and graceful “Ruby.”

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On finding out Ruby’s deadly trajectory and destructive path, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of dismay and sympathy for Yolanda’s survivors. They have barely recovered from the loss of their loved ones and the destruction of their homes and livelihoods—many have not even done so—and here they are confronted once more with yet another challenge.

But come to think of it, maybe there is a saving grace in all this. Maybe Ruby’s visit is meant to test the responsiveness and resilience of people and governments in the Yolanda-hit areas. Maybe people truly have, as officials have often proclaimed, “learned our lessons.”

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In the face of all the repair work, relocation and rebuilding carried out in Yolanda’s wake, we’ll find out for sure after Ruby whether we have, in fact, learned to “build back better.” Or whether things have instead reverted to “business as usual,” resulting in much the same tragedies as those resulting from Yolanda.

Church officials have commanded the faithful to “storm Heaven with prayers” so that the deaths and destruction from Ruby would at least be minimized. More important, though, officials should command both everyone under their authority and the populations under threat to take the obligatory steps to ensure survival—early evacuation to safe locales, stockpiling of all necessary food and materials, including medicine, to see them through the emergency, and quick, and quick-thinking, response from authorities.

If a population were ever sufficiently ready and prepared to meet a supertyphoon, it must be the people in the Yolanda-affected areas. Which is small comfort, I know, but here’s hoping everyone has learned the necessary lessons.

* * *

TIMELY indeed is the bill filed by Sen. Bam Aquino calling for “special care” for children affected by calamities. Aquino is calling for policies to provide better support for children “to help lessen their trauma, restore normalcy to their lives and build their resilience.”

With the Philippines being seen as the world’s “hot spot” of natural calamities, there surely is a need to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable populations, and children are certainly one of them.

The senator’s bill identifies all the different forms of vulnerability that beset Filipino children in times of calamities: lack of information and preparedness, which he wants to rectify by way of “age-appropriate” messages and media to teach children how to respond in times of crisis and participation in preparatory activities; vulnerability to exploitation, including sex trafficking, with him calling for “heightened surveillance” against not just suspected traffickers but also abusers; and lack of documentation or identity forms of orphaned children or children separated from their families, the quicker to be reunited with caring adults.

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The difficult situation of children after a calamity strikes may be blamed on the common assumption that their parents or other adult relatives are around to protect them and look out for them. But in the first desperate days after a disaster, children may be elbowed aside by those who are more physically able, more vocal, and more visible. And as we have found out time and again, even parents sometimes neglect their children’s welfare in pursuit of their own needs and desires.

Thus the need for “child-centered” policies and actions.

* * *

BUT there is another sector that also needs a spokesperson or advocate not just in the Senate or Congress but also in policymaking and implementing agencies.

These are the elderly who, as shown by statistics gathered after the worst of Yolanda’s damage was assessed, suffer disproportionately during disasters. Despite making up a small percentage of the general population in the Yolanda-affected areas, older people made up a great portion of the dead, missing and wounded.

There are many reasons for this dreadful statistic. Seniors are, in general, more frail, less mobile and dependent on others for their survival. When the storm surge comes raging in, with everybody looking out for himself or herself, even the most caring adults may forget the seniors in their midst.

Then there’s also the common thinking that, having “lived” a long and fulfilling life, older people should or would readily sacrifice themselves for the sake of the younger, more productive generation.

If Senator Aquino thinks the government should make special arrangements and policies to protect the young during calamities, who is the legislator who will speak up on behalf of the seniors? (Should we even be asking this question? After all, many of our senators and representatives already carry senior-citizen cards.)

Lawmakers should not forget that older people make up an influential voting bloc, and are able to articulate their needs, rights and entitlements. More so during or after disasters, which affect people equally across the board, regardless of age.

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TAGS: Hagupit, Ruby, Typhoon, Typhoon Ruby, Yolanda
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