Typhoon Lupit nears the Philippines
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Typhoon Lupit nears the Philippines

People have been sending me text messages all day warning me about the new Typhoon that just came into the Philippine Area of Responsibility.

Ironically and very aptly, this new typhoon bears the international name “Lupit” which, in Tagalog (one of the major dialects in Luzon), means cruel. 

As of Friday evening, the third storm to threaten the country in three weeks was spotted 1,000 km east of Virac and moving west northwest at a fairly fast clip of 35 kph in the general direction of northern and Central Luzon, weather experts said.

Just days after being battered by Typhoon Pepeng and Typhoon Ondoy, the government’s tally of losses in terms of properties and lives continues to grow with one disaster impact estimate overlapping with the other.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) estimated damages wrought by Ondoy on the weekend of September 26, which brought record rainfall that submerged three-fourths of Metro Manila, at P6.8 billion (US $14,166,6666).  The damage brought by the succeeding Typhoon, Pepeng, are currently pegged at P5 billion but it may climb further.

Just how exactly the DA manages to differentiate between the damage wrought by one typhoon and another is a mystery to me.  Typhoons don’t leave marks that tell one from the other and the actual value of the property damage may be based on an almost arbitrary value.  No one came by my in-law’s house in Provident Village, Marikina to ask about the price of the stuff that was destroyed and the cost of rebuilding the house.

Typhoon Lupit, which will be assigned the Philippine name Ramil, has been described by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration (PAG-ASA) as “packing maximum winds of 95 kilometers per hour and gusting up to 120 kph” and “should it make more than one pass over any area in the country—as Pepeng did—there could be heavy rainfall and possibly fresh flooding in northern Luzon.”

Nevertheless PAGASA apparently has enough data to say that the effects of the new weather system will not be felt yet and that the country will enjoy good weather till Sunday.

Reading the typhoon prediction of PAGASA just a few minutes ago reminds of the time when I was the news producer/writer at a TV station.  I used to read PAGASA’s weather bulletins and iin the same sentence, I often found PAGASA stating that there will be “sun with partly cloudy skies and rains with gusty winds alternating with soft breezes” — practically suggesting all types of weather happening all at the same time in one place.  Well, at least, they have a lesser chance of being wrong.

Even before working in the News Department of a TV station, I noticed that generally there was no warning of floods happening in Metro Manila until after people started calling radio stations to say that they were wading in knee deep waters.1255738954-30

The point is, the weather prediction we get in the Philippines is practically useless.

But even if we could predict the weather accurately, the Philippine government still has to come up with drastic measures that will ensure that damage will be minimized and this will be a tough job.

If we had a set up similar to China, where I think the state owns all of the property, it would be easier to relocate entire towns and settlements from seashores, riversides, and flood plains.

However, for decades, the national and local governments has neglected the need to create and implement a land use plan that accounts for severe weather disturbances.  The Philippines is visited by at least 20 typhoons every year, it is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are large densely packed urban settlements in major cities, there are no ready permanent evacuation sites, there are no contingency and continuity plans for disease outbreaks, and the list goes on.

Without disaster prevention and mitigation planning in place, damages and death tolls are practically a given. So, in this context, it really seems funny that some of my countrymen pound their chests and extol the virtues of ‘bayanihan’ or mouth phrases like “Where I am from, everybody is a Hero.”

If it hasn’t been clear to my fellow Filipinos yet, the imperitives are clear:

– Come up with a National Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Plan.  Instead of the government allocating billions of pesos in a budget for a calamity fund, the money would be better used preventing disasters.

– Plan for and implement measures that will enforce adaptation to climate change.  Somehow, if it is at all possible, we have to predict how the Philippines will be affected by climate change 10 or 20 years in the future.  With that prediction as the basis, we have to somehow re-work present engineering standars and land use plans  to account for much more severe, prolonged and sustained weather disturbances in that future time.

Perhaps, it may be better for our countrymen to start mouthing slogans like “Where I am from, everyone thinks ahead and plans for the future.”

It ain’t sexy, but heck, you won’t have to risk disaster just to call yourself a hero.