The Visayas Tragedy

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By Ramon Orosa

ENOUGH time has elapsed so that perhaps we can look at all that happened and the terrible consequences from a less emotional perspective. This does not mean that our heart is not broken by the loss of lives, young and old and the virtually total devastation of structures, big and small that took place. I suppose it will still take some time to determine just how bad it was. To some, the hurts may never heal. More importantly, we must also consider the emotionally traumatic effects of this disaster and offer some help. It will take more than just taking some pills!

Administratively, there is so much to learn. I hope it will not be just finger pointing and the wringing of hands. We do have a disaster coordinating Committee but it is probably time to scale up the degree of preparedness, both in terms of food and water reserves, the logistics of moving them from one place to the other and enough transport resources that can be mobilized at a moment’s notice to move relief goods by land, air or sea and the reserve personnel with which to do the task. These must all be geographically distributed based on an assessment of geological conditions prevailing and weather disturbance patterns.

Whoever is appointed to be head honcho, and one should be, to head the overall relief operation committee, must be a professional possessed of the managerial skills, intelligence, quick thinking and experience to undertake the operation and can mobilize both people and equipment, including pre-identified rolling, flying and water going equipment, from rafts to larger naval vessels., including well trained manning crews. This disaster relief organization must have the authority to trump a chain of command of supporting agencies and forces because time will always be the essence of such operations and, of course, the contingent funds that may be needed. This really is where the discretionary pork of the President should go!

Moreover, there has to be very close coordination between PAGASA and the Disaster Relief Agency so that more appropriate preparedness measures can be taken when needed. The report that the weather agency was afraid to let the appropriate estimate of potential of the incoming typhoon was a rather sad commentary, just as dismissing the police official who came out with an estimate of 10,000 possible deaths was an over-reaction from someone who should be staying cool. I wonder if he will ever learn?
Let us see if there any real steps taken to create the nation’s ability to respond to what may well be more super typhoons, if not earthquakes. It has been reported that if an earthquake of 8.5-9.0 intensity strikes Metro Manila, as many as 15,000 people may die. I think it is on the lower end of the estimate. Are the warehouses of relief goods insulated from such intense earthquakes? How about the equipment and search equipment needed? Do we have canine search teams that can go through rubble? How about enough drills and other digging equipment? I would rather put the money there than in the President’s DAP funds because a life is more important than his political games.

We must have also well equipped portable field hospitals that can be readily transported where needed, manned by members of our emergency medical corps including nurses of varying skills. I am not longing for a floating hospital ship like the one China sent. It will probably take us a century to be able to afford something like that. We still have to overcome our bad reputation for maintenance because corruption has so tainted that part of the military, well not just them but many other agencies, cities and provinces.

We must also establish how the Relief agency can call on the private sector when needed if the disaster is beyond the capability of the Relief Agencies. Doctors, surgeons, dentists, nurses, engineers, electricians, welders, mechanics, administrators, etc. etc. This should include elements of the Chaplaincy Corps of the military and their links to private spiritual workers to be able to comfort and minister to those affected and who can also help in goods distribution.

I was deeply disturbed by a report that when people were looking for shelter in Tacloban, one supposedly Christian sect, closed their church doors and would not admit anyone who was not a member, claiming that only they would be saved. The government has the right to commander private, even religious structures in the face of disasters for the common good. It is the height of religious bigotry for any one group to claim exclusivity when the public is suffering so much and need shelter badly. I hope this was an isolated incident.

However one might look at Yolanda, the expectation is that violent weather, storms, earthquakes will likely multiply in the days ahead. The issue is how to privately prepare in order not to be killed or so seriously damaged. What also is government prepared to do for those who live in vulnerable areas. The cost of retrofitting or relocation will be quite enormous. And now that we are building so many high rises, our local authorities should be very strict and require better structural engineering standards from the builders and developers.

What I notice is that no builder reveals what standards have been followed in what they have constructed. Only nice pictures, a floor plan and interior designs. Even if they comply with building standards, the question is whether it is time to raise them so that the damage and loss of lives can be minimized. I have raised this issue with some construction people and they all just look somewhat sheepish and simply say we complied with the standards prevailing. If you are contemplating buying a condominium, try asking some of these relevant questions and experience for yourself how you will be answered. You are probably talking to someone who does not know what psi means!

I guess one can go on and on while the government and the LGUs stick their heads in the sand! Well, it is a long standing habit!