On the disaster situation in Eastern Samar

I’m familiar with the areas devastated by Haiyan.  These areas are supported by my former employer.  In the aftermath of Haiyan, especially in Eastern Samar, I wonder if locals there are alive and well. Are they among the queues of stunned people in the streets? I sent a couple of inquiries through former colleagues but information at this time is still sketchy.  But it’s good to know that the hundred or so field staff are all accounted for and alive (though one lost his wife and child) — that’s the most important thing, first off.

In the news today, DENR Secretary Paje reiterated the lesson from the Haiyan devastation, that new buildings should conform to quality standards i.e. climate and disaster resilient.  This rests on two factors:  quality assurance by engineer-building inspectors of LGUs; capacity of families to pay for quality abodes.  The first is further dependent on values and ethics of public inspectors.  If they are corruptible or content with “pwede na” the community is back to reaping the same old outcome.  The second, families’ capacity to pay, is correlated with the success of poverty alleviation strategies and programs whether of government or civil society.  Both quality assurance and families’ capacity to pay are risk factors under DRR.

People need to understand that risk factors do not only pertain to geophysical but also include socioeconomic and institutional factors. Therefore the poorer and less networked one is, the greater is one’s vulnerability to disasters.  Or, the greater the occurrence of corruption and citizen participation in decision-making the higher is the risk of that community to disasters.

My point is, there is a direct link between poverty and disaster.  Region 8 or Eastern Visayas (comprised of the provinces of Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, Samar, Southern Leyte) is consistently among the top poorest regions of the country. Somewhere in this blog, there was mention of the gaping lack of water and sanitation facilities in this region, which is actually a symptom of the problem of land tenure.  Thus, in order for disaster risks to be reduced LGUs and civil society need to address these as well and not stop at geophysical factors.  Risk profiles of communities should outline hazards to which they are exposed, their vulnerabilities, and coping capacities.  DRR plans of LGUs and civil society should be based on these (and further in-depth studies if necessary).

In the villages of Eastern Samar, I/NGOs were not remiss in building awareness and educating the LGUs and village residents about DRR.  In fact, in the case of my former employer, specialists make an effort to simplify and localize the concept and its terminologies so that even Grade One pupils can relate.  Field staff introduced the DRRM Law to LGUs — which is funny we noticed because it should be the other way around. But reality is, LGUs, for various reasons, do not know.  The campaign was not a one-off activity.  It’s year in year out.  Field staff, at least in my view, had been most patient.  But we’re frustrated that only “one among the ten” responded positively.  The rest, behind their seemingly agreeable facades, chose to be stuck in the old mindset and practices. Some maintained the hopeless view, that is, why do anything at all when we’re going to die from disasters anyway?  My god, this is like saying, my mother should’ve killed me in her womb because I’m going to die and wouldn’t know if I’m going to heaven anyway.  If this is the attitude leaders have, people don’t stand a chance to live out a disaster.  They are dead even when alive.

And now this.  I can’t help but feel anger welling up.  The deaths of innocents and their losses do not make sense – it shouldn’t have happened – given that people in position to lead were forewarned to act while there was still time; which reminds us what has the RDRRMC of Region 8 been doing for regional DRR?  As the DRR community will tell, many LGUs, “for lack of funds”, do not have until now DRRM Offices (which should serve as command centers) including necessary equipments (e.g. SAT phone) to be able to function even during extreme emergencies.  In the case of Region 8, this explains why a regional command center based in Tacloban (at the airport grounds perhaps) is conspicuously absent in the aftermath of Haiyan.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper is right to say that “the people in Tacloban have great dignity and deserve better than what they have gotten“.  Media should stop, at least for a time, reporting the “happy faces of Filipinos in the face of evil done to them” to mean a “resilient” and “stress free” people.  Please.  This is not true of all 90M Filipinos.  We are stretched and stressed.  Our smiles nowadays are a coping mechanism and have not made us resilient in the true meaning of the word.  The fact is, many have been awakened and are starting to thaw and really feel (as opposed to being numbed, dumbed, and zombie-like “happy in the face of evil”), angered at the shabby treatment they continue to receive from their leaders.  As the “coward of the county” realized in Kenny Rogers’ song, “sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man”.  The rich, who are the present leaders, and who were also among those who felt the beating of Haiyan, now understand what the poor, their constituents, meant when they repeatedly battered their doors for better infrastructures.  Contrary to Duterte’s claim, God was present during the storm.

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