It will take some time before the scope and scale of the devastation caused by Typhoon “Lando” will become fully evident, but it does not seem premature to say that the country is learning its lessons from “Yolanda.” We mourn the dead—as of this writing the number stands at 12 officially and 22 in Agence France-Presse’s unofficial tally. We are still some distance from a true nationwide zero-casualty program; note that a 14-year-old boy in Quezon City died after a tree fell on his house, hundreds of kilometers away from where the typhoon made landfall. But the general level of preparedness has improved.
Much more remains to be done, but the critical lessons from the catastrophe that followed in the wake of Yolanda seem to have started to take root: frequent advance warnings, adequate prepositioned supplies, local government officials’ active participation and, above all, forced evacuations when called for.
The head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, issued a statement recognizing that “government agencies have been successful in reducing loss of life through the effective communication of early warnings and organizing targeted evacuations in the areas most affected by Typhoon Koppu (Lando’s international name).” The damage wrought by Lando’s high winds, heavy rain and slow speed has been considerable, particularly in agriculture. A preliminary estimate puts the cost of the damage to crops alone at P6.3 billion. But considering the size of the typhoon, and the hundreds of thousands of people forcibly evacuated, the death toll could have been much higher.
But the threat to life and property remains. Even as Lando is expected to exit the Philippine area of responsibility today, in some areas the rains continue to pour and the floods have not abated. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s Alexander Pama warned residents in low-lying areas that they continued to be vulnerable to flash floods, caused by waters from mountains or hillsides flowing down to river systems. “That is why we keep on saying that up to now we are warning our countrymen living near rivers that flash floods are still possible,” the NDRRMC executive director said.
More and more images are emerging, of flooded streets, blown-off roofs, crowded evacuation centers. It will take a few days before a semblance of normalcy can be achieved in the hardest-hit areas. Those of us who survived the typhoon intact, without the least disruption to our lives, can do our share to help. Relief goods are always welcome, especially food that does not require cooking. Volunteer work is always useful.
Candidates for public office can help, too, by calling a temporary stop to the unofficial campaigning that has been going on since at least June. It is not only the height of insensitivity to the plight of the people they say they want to serve if they continue to air their political ads or to conduct campaign sorties; it is also highly impractical. The weekend right after the end of the official period for the filing of certificates of candidacy, Mother Nature issues a life-or-death reminder about what really matters to the people. It is best that the candidates heed the message, too.
We realize that there is a fine line between campaigning for office and conducting relief operations. A candidate making a sortie to Aurora or Nueva Ecija can rationalize his visit by distributing relief packs, such as the several thousand that Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas brought with him to Baler, Aurora, and Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, on Tuesday. Perhaps it would be best if the candidates do not go on the sorties themselves, but that would be to judge all candidates as insincere. We should not regard all politicians as motivated by ambition alone.
But that fine line is crossed when the candidates distributing relief goods make speeches, or use their speeches to introduce the people in their slates. That would be a manmade disaster, adding to the pain of a natural calamity.
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