Recent flooding in S. Philippines raises need for disaster risk management

February 17, 2012 9:14 am 

By Prime Sarmiento

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Feb.16 — The recent flooding triggered by a rare typhoon that devastated a southern Philippine region has raised the need for local officials to enforce a disaster preparation plan.

Two months after tropical storm Washi swept the region, displaced villagers of Cagayan de Oro, one of the worst hit cities, are still rebuilding their lives, living in tent cities, relying on relief goods.

As Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Vicente Emano admitted, local officials and residents didn't expect the typhoon to inundate the city, claiming over 400 lives, displacing thousands and destroying homes.

"We have to admit that we are not prepared. We never had this before. We're used to some flooding but not on this scale," Emano told members of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists, Inc. (PNEJ).

"There's a need for disaster preparation and management. We have to do that as soon as possible," Emano said, noting that at the moment, they're focusing on rehabilitation efforts. He expects the city to stand on its own feet in less than a year's time.

PNEJ members visited this city recently to know the situation of displaced residents and how they are coping with the disaster a week before Christmas.

Interviews with evacuees and members of the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC), a non-profit group helping the victims of Washi, revealed that access to potable water and sanitation facilities remains a problem.

HRC said evacuation centers and relocation sites could hardly provide livelihood opportunities to displaced residents.

"The tropical storm Washi has shown local government units and communities lack disaster risk reduction measures and resources," HRC said in a report.

Washi, however, was one of many disasters that hit a growing urban area like Cagayan de Oro.

The city is the capital of the province of Misamis Oriental and considered the trade and business hub in the Northern Mindanao region. Home to over 500,000 people, Cagayan de Oro is one of the most populous and urbanized areas in southern Philippines.

Such economic gains, however, was vulnerable to natural disasters.

In a guidebook released last week, the World Bank said East Asian cities are in need to implement a flooding management system as more and more Asians live in urban areas.

This is especially true for the Philippines as it's located in the typhoon belt and massive flooding has long been a problem. Typhoons didn't only destroy lives and property but also hurt GDP growth and exacerbate poverty.

"Urban flooding is becoming more dangerous and more costly to manage because of the sheer size of the population exposed within urban settlements," according to a World Bank guidebook titled "Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century."

Pamela Cox, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific Region, said it's the poor who suffer most from the floods.

"Urban expansion often creates poorer neighborhoods which lack adequate infrastructure and services, making them more vulnerable to floods," Cox said in a statement.

According to the World Bank guidebook, the most effective way to manage flood risk is to take an integrated approach which combines both structural and non-structural measures. This includes building drainage channels and floodways; incorporating "urban greening" such as wetlands and environmental buffers; creating flood warning systems; and land use planning for flood avoidance.

The World Bank stressed that flood risk cannot be eliminated. Thus it's important for local officials to plan for rehabilitation and to build "safer and stronger communities which have the capacity to withstand flooding." (PNA/Xinhua) RSV/mmg

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