Cities ill-prepared for typhoons

A year ago today, typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines, killing more than 1,000 in the region and displacing hundreds of thousands, but many cities are still ill-prepared for a similar disaster.

The storm dumped a month’s worth of rain within 12 hours of striking the Philippines before moving on to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Local authorities in the Philippines have received little response from the national government over appeals for money to move thousands still living in tent communities, said Paul del Rosario, humanitarian coordinator with Oxfam, which recently released its assessments of communities one year after Ketsana.

“Without help relocating to safer areas, families started returning to unsafe communities around the [Laguna] lake’s perimeter,” said Rosario.

At 900 sqkm, Laguna Lake, the largest inland body of water in the country, spans six provinces and 61 towns and cities, including 29 lakeshore communities comprising poorly planned enclaves and residential areas.


While governments appreciate the need to prepare for weather events, it has not always translated into action, said Rosario.

“Cities should be looking at their land use plans and mapping risks to see what areas are not suitable for [habitation]; investing in early warning systems like rain gauges and flood markers; improving building structures, and contingency planning… A significant number have not.”

About 35 percent of Manila's 12 million people live in slums that are vulnerable to natural disasters, according to the UN.

The government’s recent passage of disaster risk reduction and management legislation is a good start to shift focus from emergency response to preparation, but implementing the act requires sustained political commitment and heavy investment, said Rosario.

Response focused

It is still difficult to interest donors in disaster preparedness, he added. It was an “exception” that Oxfam was able to get support readily from the Australian government to support its disaster risk reduction work in the provinces of Rizal and Laguna from March 2010-2011.

Only 5 percent of US government funding through its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) goes toward risk reduction, with most allocated to relief and recovery, said Gabrielle Iglesias with the Bangkok-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), which has OFDA support for its Program for Hydro-Meteorological Mitigation in Secondary Cities in Asia until the end of the year.

Pasig, one of the hardest-hit cities, has worked with ADPC over the past year to brace itself against future disasters.

Greg Evangelista, the city officer in charge of village relations, ranked the city’s preparedness as five on a scale of one to 10 when the typhoon hit, but told IRIN it had advanced to nine over the past year.

He said eight of the city’s most devastated villages, known locally as barangays, had drafted disaster risk reduction plans and defined at-risk areas with ADPC support; 50 city officials who responded to the floods have received training in disaster response; volunteers have learned search and rescue techniques, and plans are under way to present disaster-preparedness seminars in the city’s remaining 22 villages.

“We want to make everybody disaster-conscious – then we would be at a rank of 10,” judged Evangelista.