Nov 212013

Two weeks after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) left a path of destruction in the Philippines, two United Nations (UN) officials on Thursday advised the country’s leaders to further empower its local government units (LGUs) in facing disasters.

Margareta Wahlström, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said the Philippine government should not easily forget and take for granted the widespread damage caused by the recent super typhoon.

“The major obstacle to a disaster preparedness system is that we don’t really take disasters seriously enough. We suffer a lot when they happen and then we forget, but the human cost, the financial cost to society and the political cost is too high,” Wahlström said during a press briefing at the Senate.

The UN official was at the Senate for the launch of the “How Safe is Your School?” program, a crowdsourcing initiative being developed by the intergovernmental organization to assess the diaster preparedness of educational structures in the Philippines.

Wahlström advised the Philippine government to strictly enforce its environmental laws, and to take disaster preparedness at the local level.

“The opportunity now is to use this very tragic year to really enforce the functionality of this system and to ensure that even at the most local level, the municipalities and the provinces, there is enough capacity and attention to the issues of disaster,” the UN official said.

At least 4,011 individuals have been confirmed dead after Yolanda ripped through the Visayas and parts of Luzon two weeks ago, based on latest government data. 

A total of 2.1 million families were affected by the super typhoon, which left damage to the country worth P12.6 billion.

President Benigno Aquino III attributed the slow government response in Yolanda’s aftermath to the “breakdown in practically everything,” especially at the local level. He has ordered an investigation on LGUs’ disaster preparations and response to the super typhoon. 

Review Building Code

Toshihiro Tanaka, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative to the Philippines, agreed that disaster preparedness should start at the local level.

“The level of the intensity of the devastation caused [by Yolanda] was so much that not all countries are ready for that. It’s a true challenge for the government, particularly local government. I hope to see more local government capability to cope with disasters before national or international can come in,” Tanaka said in a separate interview.

He also encouraged Filipinos to institutionalize disaster preparedness in schools and even in their own homes.

Tanaka also called on the Philippines to reassess its Building Code, which was enacted over four decades ago, following the earthquake that hit Bohol last month.

“In Bohol, I saw that many concrete buildings were destroyed, even newly built. Even schools and hospitals, where people will be evacuated. Those buildings, in particular, need to be looked at from the structural point of view,” he said.

In mid-October, a magnitude-7.2 quake also hit Bohol Island in the Visayas region, leaving over 200 dead and various infrastructures—including heritage churches—severely damaged. —KG, GMA News

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