Zero casualties

EDITORIAL- The Philippine Star

The government is aiming for zero casualties as it maps out measures for disaster preparedness, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government. It’s an ambitious goal for the DILG, but it’s good to aim for the ideal as the nation marks Disaster Preparedness Week.

Among the initiatives to be launched starting today, apart from regular flood drills, is a three-year program to remove informal dwellers along waterways, relocate them, and make sure they don’t return. The DILG counts 15,773 families squatting along six major waterways in Metro Manila. Apart from the Pasig River, the waterways include the Manggahan Floodway, where informal settlers were among the worst victims of torrential flooding at the height of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009.

According to a study released recently by the World Bank, natural disasters present a serious development challenge for East Asian and Pacific countries, with the poor often the most affected. Over 1.6 billion people have been affected by disasters in the Asia-Pacific since 2000, with the region accounting for 61 percent of global losses from disasters in the past 20 years and 40 percent of suffering from flooding in the past three decades.

The World Bank study pointed out that disaster risk has become a major issue in poverty alleviation, with natural disasters derailing long-term growth and diverting state resources from essential services and development projects. The study also noted that among the most vulnerable to disasters are rapidly growing cities in East Asia.

Economic losses from disasters have been increasing in recent years, with the figures 15 times higher in the 1990s than in the 1950s, according to the World Bank report. In 2011, the costliest on record, economic losses in the Asia-Pacific amounted to $259 billion in the first nine months alone, accounting for 80 percent of the global total. The most affected were Pacific island nations.

The Philippines, which also faces the Pacific, is no stranger to disasters, with scores of lives lost and billions in crops and property destroyed annually from typhoons, floods and earthquakes. The nation cannot afford not to give high priority to disaster preparedness.

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