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Beef up PAGASA

(Sixth of a series)

Senator Manny B. VillarThe damage caused by super typhoon Yolanda continues to rise. As of December 13, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) placed it at P35.5 billion, with infrastructure accounting for P18.23 billion and agriculture P17.32 billion.

The cost of relief and reconstruction is several times more than the estimated damage. The Department of Budget and Management estimated the cost of rebuilding the areas ravaged by Yolanda and other natural calamities like typhoon Santi, which hit Central Luzon, and the October 15 earthquake in Bohol at P130 billion.

Yolanda, which affected 3.42 million families or more than 16 million people in seven regions, is expected to take up the bulk of the relief and reconstruction funds. Based on estimates by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the immediate relief and reconstruction plan for the Yolanda-affected areas will cost about P38.8 billion or 30 percent of the DBM’s P130-billion estimate.

The short-term plan for relief and reconstruction will involve the construction of houses for families who would be relocated from the danger zones, financial assistance to other families whose houses were destroyed or damaged by the typhoon, temporary employment for people who lost their livelihood, seedlings and other assistance to farmers and fishermen, and repair of public schools, hospitals, government offices, and public markets.

The government is also preparing medium-term and long-term plans, which will involve the reconstruction of infrastructure. Fortunately, the government is in good fiscal condition to finance the relief and reconstruction effort. In addition, the Philippines is receiving substantial assistance from other countries and international institutions to cope with the impact of the world’s worst typhoon.

Last week, for example, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had said it would increase its loan assistance to the Philippines from $500 million to $850 million. The ADB had earlier pledged to provide the country with a $500-million emergency loan for the reconstruction of the Yolanda-affected areas. The additional $350 million was granted at the request of the Philippine government.

For its part, the World Bank is providing a total of $980-million financial package for the rehabilitation of the areas devastated by Yolanda. The package consists of $500 million emergency loan and $480 million for a project to help the victims rebuild livelihood-related infrastructure like water systems and rural roads as well as schools and clinics.

All these are important and urgent. And I believe that rebuilding and improving our weather-forecasting system should also receive high priority. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Yolanda damaged its Doppler radar in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, as well as the agency’s stations in Coron, Palawan, and Tacloban, Leyte.

I agree with PAGASA that its damaged equipment must be repaired or replaced immediately. Otherwise, we will be blind to incoming typhoons. Yolanda also taught us to have alternative communications systems that can operate when the regular systems fail, and standby power for local governments and evacuation centers.

We must not forget some bitter lessons from Yolanda, such as the breakdown of communications systems delayed the transmission of vital information to guide rescuers; where to deliver relief and where to send rescue teams; the absence of standby power made life more difficult not only for the victims but also for the rescue teams.

We must also not forget the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes. The institute, which lists 23 active volcanoes in the Philippines, depends on sophisticated, often expensive equipment, to keep us updated on the behavior of Mayon, Taal, and other volcanoes.

And, we must look at the needs of our scientists at PAGASA and Philvolcs. Not a few of them have left for greener pastures overseas. Considering their training and skills, and their role in keeping the country well-informed and adequately warned about forthcoming disasters, it would not be unfair to give them incentives or benefit packages to stay here.

(Please e-mail comments to: mbv.secretariat@gmail.com)