Have we really learned our lessons from Ondoy?

Disaster management is a collaborative effort and not solely a government responsibility. We should have ultimately learned this lesson from Ondoy.

The Philippines remains a hotbed of natural disasters such as tropical cyclones, floods, earthquake and volcanic eruptions. While we have significantly improved our ranking from 3rd to 9th riskiest country in the 2019 World Risk Index which evaluates the exposure of countries to natural disasters, the recent onslaught of Typhoons Rolly (international name Goni) and Ulysses (international name Vamco) has exposed the significant institutional and behavioral deficiencies of our country's disaster preparedness and mitigation system.

The purported lessons of the catastrophic Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 prompted the passage of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, which set into motion a framework for disaster management in the country and broadened the definition of disaster management to include disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, recovery and rehabilitation. But legislation is only one out of many grocery items that must be ticked off to ensure that we are more institutionally and structurally equipped to respond to disasters.

The lack of disaster planning and action from an infrastructure point of view remains one of the key missing elements in disaster management. Following the aftermath by Typhoon Ondoy, the World Bank funded the creation of a Master Plan for Flood Management in Metro Manila and Surrounding Areas. In 2012, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) unveiled a P370 Billion Peso Comprehensive Flood Control Master Plan which sought to address the factors that contribute to perennial flooding occurrences in the Greater Manila Area. However, the DPWH said in 2018 that none of the projects under the plan have been completed and only about 14% of the projects were funded since the master plan's approval.

Disaster management continues to also lag at the tail-end of the priorities of some local governments. Since the issue of disaster preparedness and mitigation does not resonate among voters, political patrons only focus on disaster relief operations especially given the opportunity to place their big names in relief bags and packages.

Unfortunately, many citizens also continue to show a lackadaisical attitude towards disaster management. Once the media frenzy over typhoons die down, some return to dwelling in their dangerous abodes along streams and rivers. Despite persistent reminders, some of us continue to improperly dispose our wastes. Moreover, many of us remain disengaged with government and community-led consultations and disaster-related projects. As a result, we are often caught unaware and undisciplined during disaster situations which often leads to loss of lives.

The aftermath of Ondoy should have triggered a transformation not only in our institutions but more so in our behavior when it comes to disaster management. Unfortunately, and typically, a lot of us conveniently pin the blame solely on the government when they fail to respond promptly. We fail to recognize our faults and transgressions as responsible citizens and stewards of our environment.

We should demand not only accountability from our government officials but also from our very own citizens. Disaster management is a collaborative effort and not solely a government responsibility. We should have ultimately learned this lesson from Ondoy.

About the Author
Mr. Aaron Benedict De Leon is currently a Business Development Practitioner in a private consulting firm. He has more than six years of professional experience in leading and managing political and non-government organizations, specializing in organizational management, policy development and program management. He has had stints with notable political/socio-civic organizations, serving in various capacities as: Secretary-General of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP) [2013-2015], Founding Chairperson of the Centrist Democratic Youth Association of the Philippines (CDYAP) [2012-2014], Philippine Representative to the International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) [2011-2012], Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth [2011-2012], Secretary-General of YOUTH Philippines [2010-2011], and Spokesperson/Communications Director of the GT2010 Gilbert Teodoro Presidential Campaign [2009-2010].
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