Are we a Disaster-Safety-Conscious society?
By Joel B. Belinan
July is a Natural Disaster Consciousness month in the country. First, because it’s the onset of the destructive typhoon season. Second, July 16 was when the killer 1990 earthquake devastated North Luzon. These two should be enough to justify such a declaration. In the entire Asia Pacific (if not the entire world) our country is considered the second most disaster-prone, next only to Bangladesh. What a distinction that this country keeps on getting.
We are visited by at least 20 typhoons every year according to the weather bureau. On top of that, the entire archipelago except for the province of Palawan is located in the so-called pacific ring of fire. This pacific ring of fire is an array of underground and underwater volcanoes that when they erupt, it results in an earthquake with weak, medium, or strong intensity. Aside from that this archipelago of ours have also several fault lines whose tectonic plates and seismic movements pose earthquake hazards to nearby areas.
On top of these natural disasters, we as a people and our government have been creating man-made disasters that further complicate the calamities that periodically visit us. Deforestation, over-development, bad mining practices, over dependence of farms on chemicals, community clogging of our waterways, to mention just a few.
In July of 1994, I was part of a team from the Cordillera Mountaineering Club that attended the first ever emergency rescue and medical service convention in San Mateo, Rizal convened by the Department of Health. It should be noted that in July 1993 or a year earlier, there was that Bocaue Pagoda (makeshift boat) tragedy. Used for a religious river procession, the boat with at least 800 to 1000 devotees capsized and killed 266 people. A boy named Sajid, barely 12 years old, showed exemplary heroism by rescuing several people from drowning but in the end, lost his own life. Such an act by boy Sajid who was later called Bayani (Hero) ng Bulacan became a rallying point for various rescue and emergency medical groups who attended that convention. Of course, we have had all those stories of heroism of individuals and groups in earlier disasters like those of the miners and the PMA cadets during the 1990 earthquake here in Baguio, among others.
I remember the biggest output of that convention was the conceptualization of a proposed law for submission and possible consideration of lawmakers. It envisioned creating a career in emergency medical service and in emergency technical rescue. This could have meant one more career avenue for nurses and technically skilled rescuers. However, such proposed law never saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
Despite these, the emergency response and even the local government’s disaster management have, we have to admit, greatly improved. Unfortunately, the kind of disasters that visit us or that occur keep on becoming more and more intense or dangerous. Typhoons have become super-typhoons. Before, we never heard of signal no.4 and signal no. 5, but in the recent few years we had been visited by such monstrous typhoons. Remember Typhoon Yolanda (Haian) the strongest typhoon that ever landed in the entire world.
Meantime instead of learning from the past, our country continues to record very fast forest destruction rates, our farming systems have become even more dependent on chemicals, while we continue to hear news of environmental violations from the industrial sector. The waterways in general, instead of getting much-needed respite, informal settlers and even business establishments continue to choke them and so we have regular flash floods in highly populated places even with weak rains. Indeed, as stated in the environmental documentary “The Home”, humans are the most destructive creatures in this planet. Unfortunately, there is climate change that is readily available to blame, although such climate phenomenon is a result of human destructiveness since the dawn of man’s existence.
And we can only console ourselves that some selfless groups and individuals put their lives in front to save others during emergencies. Also, there are stories of success from Local Government Units (LGUS, Provinces, cities, and municipalities) and also cause-oriented groups that continue to succeed in this struggle against calamities and environmental menace. If only,…….. so many ifs, but this is life. Maybe in the next lifetime. **