17 January 2014

More Prepared Than Tacloban City

Central Philippines
Still remember Typhoon Yolanda? Thousand of lives were lost and both the local government units (LGUs) and national government are still at a lost on how to work well with each other after the 1991 devolution of powers.

Ironically, there are less-developed areas or LGUs that appeared more prepared than the badly hit Tacloban City who had to deal with their high-profiled albeit "unskilled in handling disaster" local executive. Areas that are more discipline to handle possible worst-case scenarios include the town of Javier in Leyte; Malapascua Island in Cebu; Albay in Bicol, and Virac in Catanduanes. All recorded no deaths from Typhoon Yolanda, according to NDRRMC data.

Meanwhile, only one person died on Manicani island in Eastern Samar's Guiuan town where the typhoon first made landfall.

The more than 3,000 people on the island moved to higher ground two days before the Yolanda hit.

More than 1,000 people on a tiny island between Cebu and Leyte survived the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda because they evacuated before the storm hit, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

All houses on Tulang Diyot just off San Francisco town in Cebu province were destroyed but the island's entire population survived.

Alfredo Arquillano, a former mayor of San Francisco, told UNISDR that all the people on the island were brought to safer ground a day before the typhoon hit.

"It was a good decision; it’s fair to say it saved everyone’s life. There is not one house left standing on the island, everything was wiped out," he said in a UNISDR statement.

"It just shows that preparedness pays. We have been working for years on early warnings, evacuations. The awareness level of the community was so high that it went well," he added.

The town, which Tulang Diyot belongs, is recognized by the UNISDR as a role model in disaster risk reduction.

He said they are considering permanently moving the islanders to the main town in San Francisco.

"They shouldn’t go back. While most people understand the risk because Tulang Diyot is so low-lying it is very hard for them not to return as this is their home," he added. “It will be a challenge to try to relocate them somewhere safe and where they can rebuild their livelihoods as fishermen or farmers.”

"We knew we were vulnerable, so we made absolutely sure that everybody knew what to do and where to go," Arquillano told AFP by phone.

Camotes islands, which San Francisco is part of, also fared relatively well during the typhoon.

A storm surge hit all of the islands but only 5 deaths were recorded, according to the latest National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) death toll from the typhoon, which stands at 3,967 as of November 18.

Arquillano earlier told Agence France-Presse that Camotes residents had been practicing typhoon drills for years. How about the residents and city officers of Tacloban City? Are your local executives leading the way towards full recovery or just waiting for aid to come in the comforts of their beach houses?