Community empowerment key to disaster preparedness – official

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/22 October) – Empowering communities, not high-tech gadgets, will make them better prepared for disasters, an official said.

Liza Mazo, regional director of the Office of Civil Defense in Caraga Region, said the key lies in having a strong early warning system.

“How strong and strengthened is our early warning? This is in fact a big process. We don’t actually need high-tech gadgets,” Mazo said during the meeting of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council last week.

“The simple solution is to empower our communities. People in the community can interpret and assess for themselves and then key agencies should be there to support them. Evacuation and relocation should be taken seriously and the people in general should not take this for granted,” she added.

Mazo, also the head of the RDRRMC, urged communities and stakeholders to be vigilant and to prepare for rains and typhoons.

“There is no room for complacency. We have been caught off guard this year when tropical storm Agaton hit us with nonstop heavy rain. It has become my personal commitment because I am very much alarmed on the trend. So we have to prepare twice or three times as much for any scenario,” she said.

She emphasized that the lessons of the past should not be taken lightly and should guide all the stakeholders.

“We in the region we can only do so much. We need the help and capacity of local government units for the resources and support. The challenge then is the smooth, fast and proper coordination since it was one of the major problems we had in the past,” she said.

Since March, the RDRRMC in coordination with the provincial, city and municipal offices have held trainings and seminars on disaster preparedness in anticipation of calamities during the rainy and typhoon seasons.

Lolita Vinalay, chief meteorological officer of Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration–Butuan agreed with Mazo.

“We are now in the northeast monsoon season. There is a big possibility that if a storm will form it will hit parts of Northern Mindanao. Caraga region is very vulnerable since it is close to Bicol region and Visayas, and we are expecting around five storms between November and December based on our storm models so we must not be complacent,” warned Vinalay.

“Based on our data from previous years, the storms that will hit in November and December are those that carry stronger winds and heavier rains, and there is a very big possibility that it will hit northern Mindanao,” she said.

She further cited that storms have become stronger than in the past.

“We learned so much especially after super typhoon Yolanda hit last year and tropical storm Agaton in January this year. From our experience we learned to push the community through empowering the people, almost every week we conducted several community based disaster risk reduction management planning from their we have managed to push the municipalities to come up with their own protocols,” Erma Suyo, Agusan del Norte Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management officer meanwhile said.

Yolanda that hit Eastern Visayas last year and tropical storm Agaton caused massive flooding in Caraga and neighboring regions this year.

Suyo emphasized the experience has given them and the different municipalities a picture of what could happen and the preparations that should be made.

She said that except for the municipality of Buenavista, all local government units of Agusan del Norte have trained their own rescue responders.

The LGUs have also slowly acquired equipment and made memorandums of agreement with other stakeholders such as the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Fire Protection, she said. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)