Whenever a typhoon approaches Philippine territory, it’s only fair to say that Pagasa (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration), despite budget cuts in recent years, does its job well by providing regular weather reports. The cuts, of course, delayed the modernization of the country’s weather agency.
The private sector and civil society organizations usually carry out relief efforts when a disaster hits the country – be it a typhoon, earthquake or volcanic eruption. But the more important question we should be asking is: Does the government have a concrete disaster risk reduction plan? If yes, how effective is it?
About 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, so effective disaster preparedness is a must. But if only body counts and salvage operations are carried out, then the government does not have such effective measures.
On the other side of the world, an island nation has been recognized not only by the United Nations, but also by international NGOs and academics for its disaster risk reduction efforts, despite a 60-year US economic blockade that hampered its socio-economic development.
This is Cuba, the largest and most populous island in the Caribbean. Its location in the North Atlantic invites a number of hurricanes and storms annually. Despite this, Cuba still manages to protect its people from danger. A 2011 analysis by the Center International Policy highlighted the island’s low death rate from hurricanes. In fact, the US has suffered more casualties than Cuba, where the former recorded 44.73 deaths per million people and the latter just 2.43 deaths per million people from eight storms in over eight years.
According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), this was made possible by Cuba’s three pillars: education, civil defense and the Meteorological Institute. Education is the main pillar in which Cubans are taught disaster preparedness from a young age. They have a two-day annual hurricane risk mitigation training course, supplemented by simulation exercises and concrete preparation measures.
Cuba’s Institute of Civil Defense and Meteorology also plays a role in the implementation of the four-phase emergency response program. In Phase 1 (Information), television and radio play an important role in informing the public of an approaching hurricane. In Phase 2 (Alert), government agencies are mobilized 48 hours before the hurricane’s projected arrival to implement the emergency response plan; Measures such as evacuation are taken. In Phase 3 (Alert), as the hurricane sweeps the country, government disaster relief comes into full effect, with all levels of civil defense remaining in place. Phase 4 (Recovery): After the hurricane fails to reach state territory, local, municipal, provincial, and national leaders continue to restore and restore damaged services and infrastructure.
In the 2002 study “Popular Mobilization and Disaster Management in Cuba,” Holly Sims and Kevin Vogelmann asserted that “Government intervention and popular participation are critical elements of Cuba’s disaster preparedness and public health policies. The constitution requires the state to save lives and resources during natural disasters.”
The British international NGO Oxfam concluded in its 2004 report that there is “no comprehensive substitute for reducing poverty and promoting social and economic equity as fundamental long-term strategies for reducing vulnerability to hazard” in disaster risk reduction . Using the disaster equation of “risk = danger x vulnerability”, reducing disaster risk does not seem like an easy task, especially in the Philippines where the government is corrupt and has no interest in science-based disaster response. With this Cuban model, we can pressure the government to commit to long-term sustainable development that reduces risk and establishes a national disaster mitigation, preparedness and response structure. Only when these are realized can Filipino lives be saved.
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Jervy Briones is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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