Typhoon Hagupit: People in Panic and a Test of Preparedness to Disasters

Saturday, December 6, 2014 - 21:07

As the day anticipated for the landfall of Typhoon Hagupit (locally known as Ruby) draws nearer, people across the Philippines are in panic. The strength of sustained wind for the last three days has been fluctuating between 145 – 250kmph with gust of 230 - 240kmph over the pacific. The government weather forecast indicates that there will be storm surge of 3-7 meters and heavy rainfall causing floods and landslides in some areas. Hagupit is expected to make land fall either Saturday night (8pm) of early Sunday morning (1am) in Eastern Visayas, similar to Typhoon Haiyan track of landfall. Nearly 50 provinces will be affected with Samar, Northern and Eastern Samar at highest risk of the impact of storm surge and strong winds.

The government of the Philippines, the most vulnerable communities, and humanitarian actors took necessary steps to reduce risk and respond to anticipated impact of Hagupit landfall. The most vulnerable communities, especially people living in poverty, were fast in responding to early warnings of Typhoon Hagupit. I have witnessed widespread panic buying across the provinces at most risk to Hagupit. People used their meagre resources to stock food and basic needs.  Thousands of vulnerable people voluntarily evacuated from their homes and government forced a number of people to relocate to evacuation centres especially communities residing in coastal areas.  The government and most vulnerable people cut down trees along the road and near residents respectively. The panic in people is largely attributable to the fresh memories and learning from the impact of typhoon Yolanda, the widespread information that Hagupit will be much more devastating than Haiyan, and the fact that people are more informed and conscious to prevent, reduce risk and respond to disasters.

What remains uncertain at this point is the extent to which learning from Haiyan response is informing government and humanitarian actors in preparing to save lives and protect the rights of people prior to, during and after Hagupit landfall. Pre-Hagupit landfall, it is critical to ensure that there is sustained supply of food and basic needs for people in evacuation centres, people’s rights especially women and children are protected during forced evacuation and in the evacuation centres. In areas with no evacuation centres, government needs to secure safe spaces for vulnerable people

One year after Haiyan, vulnerable communities with the support of government and humanitarian actors have made some progress in rebuilding lives and livelihood even though the recovery process has been slow. However, nearly one million people have not rebuilt their house. Over 24,000 people are displaced in either evacuation centres or bunkhouses. The greatest concern at the moment is that if the sustained wind intensifies, then Hagupit will be a turning point for all recovery and reconstruction efforts post Haiyan. In worst case scenario, Typhoon Hagupit landfall will cause mass destruction similar to Typhoon Haiyan which affected 14.1 million people, killed 6,201 and destroyed 1.1 million houses, among others. Strong sustained winds above 200kmph implies that houses rebuilt, productive assets restored, farm lands and coconuts replanted, schools and hospitals reconstructed may possibility be destroyed.  It’s important to note that, Typhoon Hagupit will be a test of time, a test of BUILDING BACK BETTER, and a test of disaster preparedness in the Philippines. It may call for a fresh start in rebuilding lives and livelihood.

My experience working with most vulnerable people in typhoon affected areas shows that some people, especially women have not yet fully recovered from the shock and devastating experiences of Haiyan. At this point, I am more worried about the fact that the landfall will be at night, precisely Saturday night. The fundamental question is: How are we going to ensure that we respond to emerging needs in a timely and effective manner that is people-centred and rights based at night. The government, humanitarian actors and the people need to be more prepared to respond to emerging needs and save lives at night. It’s critical to take into consideration the diverse and unique needs of women, children, men and people with disability in all aspects of humanitarian response.

 

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