"What this Country needs is not a change OF men but a change IN men" March 1980

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gordon: We wait for disaster to come, then we panic. . .

By Leila B. Salaverria, Miko Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:51:00 09/25/2010

MANILA, Philippines—Former Sen. Richard Gordon is ready for an onslaught by another Tropical Storm “Ondoy”—he has fitted out his SUV with a “snorkel” which, he says, should prevent his vehicle from being stalled in floods.

But Gordon, who heads the Philippine National Red Cross, is worried that millions of his countrymen may not be as equally prepared.

According to him, the best protection people can have is to learn how to save themselves long before the disaster comes. It’s the government’s job to clean the esteros, but people need to know when to leave before a flood, or a landslide, occurs.

He considers this “national indifference” the biggest obstacle in the way of disaster preparedness.
“We’re very lackadaisical,” he says in an interview as the anniversary of the massive floods unleashed by Ondoy in Metro Manila last year approaches. “We wait for disaster to come, and when it comes, that’s when we panic and start assigning blame.”

Gordon’s “snorkel” is actually the black exhaust pipe of his SUV which he has extended high on one side of the vehicle so that it rises above its roof. Other PNRC vehicles have been fitted out with similar “snorkels.”

Gordon believes that innovation would enable him and his Red Cross team to cross floodwaters and reach victims should another deluge strike.

Such preparedness is something that Gordon fails to see in most Filipinos despite the massive loss of lives the country suffered in the wake of Ondoy.

Gordon notes that not long after the pummeling from Ondoy, many have returned to live on riverbanks and near esteros and canals, clogging the drainage systems that are supposed to drain rainwater and prevent floods.

Proactive leader

But it can change, he says, with a proactive leader.

“It doesn’t take an Ondoy, it takes a leader to change that mind-set,” he says.
This entails not just preparing for tragedy but reducing the risk of such events—such as by relocating people who live in flood-prone areas and having an urban management plan that forbids people from living in such places and requires strict compliance with the building code.

The government could also teach people how to prepare for and respond to calamities, a task that private sector groups, such as the Red Cross, is doing.

Gordon notes that the government has bought equipment, such as rubber boats, in case another typhoon ravages the country, but he also points out that there has just been a changing of the guard, and with it comes new people manning the disaster mitigation offices.

Continuity is an important factor in disaster preparedness, he adds.

Cycle of disaster

Gordon says tragedy need not strike again for people to be jolted into knowing how to take themselves out of harm’s way.

“You must stop the cycle of disaster and poverty and the only way you can do that is if the people themselves know where to go, where to live and what are the threats in their community and they prepare actively for it,” he says.

For its part, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, has put in place various plans to bring speedy relief to calamity victims.

More prepared now

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman believes the lessons of Ondoy have not been lost on Filipinos and that people are more knowledgeable now about what they need to do when a disaster is upon them.

“I think we’re more prepared now. Citizens are more aware,” Soliman says.
She notes that in Marikina, one of the cities hardest hit by Ondoy’s wrath, many houses have been provided with boats which the residents could use if the waters rise again.

There is also closer monitoring of the rain and water levels in critical areas, she says. The environment department has also provided local governments with a geohazard map so that they could identify the areas prone to landslides during heavy rains.

Relief goods in place

Soliman says DSWD relief goods are also in place. Packs of goods have been distributed to regional offices.

Stocks of relief goods in the DSWD warehouse have been clearly labeled and stamped with expiration dates.

Earlier, a blogger claimed the DSWD had left relief goods for Ondoy victims to rot in its warehouses—a claim former Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral denied.

The DSWD has also inked a partnership with companies that provide trucking, heavy equipment, pharmaceuticals, mobile kitchens and portable toilets during calamities, according to Soliman.

They won’t leave

Housewife Cristina Cacao, 53, and her family live within swamping distance of Laguna de Bay, the third largest freshwater lake in Asia, and may well be among the people Gordon worries about.

“We cannot just leave our way of life to be relocated elsewhere,” Cacao says. Her family lives in a rented two-story house at Sto. Nino Aplaya, a community of 98 families in Muntinlupa City who rely solely on fishing for their livelihood.

“The people are okay with this setup. My family likewise don’t mind,” Cacao says.
When a storm starts battering Muntinlupa and the rest of Metro Manila, Cacao and the others scamper to evacuation centers or to higher grounds.

They return when the weather clears to resume their lives.

“We’re content with this,” she says.

‘People are stubborn’

Cacao, the leader of a women’s group called Samahang Kababaihan ng Sto. Nino Aplaya, insists that life in the community, no matter how hard, is still better than in relocation areas because they have fishing to rely on.



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