Priest says measures can prevent typhoon deaths, damage

2009-05-08 13:38:05
The death toll from the landslides set off by the recent typhoon Dante could have been reduced by effective planning, a Jesuit scientist says. Typhoon Dante ripped through Bicol region, southeast of Manila, on May 1 killing at least 26 people. Most people died when the heavy rains set off landslides which buried houses in the town of Magallanes, Sorsogon province. Dante destroyed fishing vessels, schools, a health clinic and homes. Such disasters are all too common. Even as the people of Bicol were dealing with the disaster, other parts of the country were being battered by another typhoon, "Emong." Three were reported killed and five injured in the northern Philippines Ilocos and surrounding regions during the typhoon as of May 8. Another two died in a landslide in Ifugao province, initial National Disaster and Coordination Council (NDCC) reports said. Jesuit Father Peter Walpole, director of Environmental Science for Social Change center, told UCA News on May 7 that many deaths from these disasters could be avoided. He said improved monitoring systems were a better solution than the usual response of building more dikes that could be swept away by rampaging floodwaters. The priest said the existing village monitoring system, with teams of trained tanod (watchman) was effective but needed expanding. It was crucial to identify telltale signs of a possible disaster, such as cracks in the mountainsides, he added. With an improved monitoring system, local officials can launch an early response team even before the landslide occurs, saving lives. Preparations for evacuation also needed to be improved, the priest said. "The government must identify ahead of time villages where residents from landslide prone areas are to be relocated," Father Walpole said. "This must include providing alternative livelihood to displaced villagers." He stressed that these two elements -- monitoring ahead of time and evacuation planning -- were the most effective measures to reduce deaths. "Building dikes would just create more problems," he said, as the program was expensive. Environmental Science for Social Change center is a research institute run by Jesuits in the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City, northeast of Manila. About 186 families have been ordered to evacuate the landslide-prone Hubo village near Magallanes. They have gone to live with relatives or have been placed in temporary shelters. The governor of Sorsogon province, Sally Lee, who heads the provincial disaster coordinating council, has promised to give priority to relocate families at risk. The Church is also stepping up relief efforts. Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon has appealed for help for the typhoon victims, broadcasting his plea over Philippines Church-run Radio Veritas Asia. National disaster authorities have estimated that damage from typhoon Dante could cost 127 million pesos (US$2.76 million). Roads and bridges in three Bicol provinces were washed away and US$9.45 million worth of rice, livestock, cash crops and fisheries have been destroyed.
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