A tragic incident similar to what happened in Leyte way back in 1991 (the Ormoc flashflood that swept about 6,000 individuals) and in 2003 (the San Francisco landslide that killed 133 people) took place last Feb. 17, this time in St. Bernard town, same province. Rampaging mudslides swallowed the whole village of not less than 2,000 people leaving an area of eight square kilometers covered with mud as deep as 49 ft. The number of recovered dead bodies have reached 94 while 415 luckily survived. As of this moment, more than a thousand are still missing. Most are now feared dead, including the 200 pupils in buried Guinsaugon Elementary School.
The same incident happened in Central Luzon’s Aurora Province in December 2004 when successive week-long typhoons hit the province triggering flashfloods, landslides and mudflows affecting almost half of Aurora’s population (15,782 families or 78,419 persons).
The St. Bernard occurrence and the Aurora disaster have some common complex factors at play that are vital to take into account. One of them is the amount of precipitation (level of rainfall) in the area. Since La Niña is expected to be approaching the country on the first quarter of the year, Leyte, and even Aurora and other disaster-prone areas, had been experiencing its initial aftermath as early as December last year. Also, these areas have been found by experts to be prone to landslides due to the mountains’ soil or ground composition and the steepness of their slopes. Both also lie in places where there are numerous faults and major fractures that cut through major rock units. It is also imperative to note that mountains in both areas have long been deforested due to rampant mining activities (legal and illegal) since time immemorial.
Coconut trees cannot prevent landslides since they are shallow-rooted unlike hardwood trees that are deeply-rooted and could hold much water and soil.
The threats of climate change, geology and geography are natural features that make Leyte and other at-risk communities susceptible to disaster. Man-made activities such as deforestation and mining add up to disaster-vulnerability. This situation plus other human and developmental factors or socio-economic vulnerabilities — such as the incidence of poverty — compound the people and communities’ incapability to cope with disasters. Furthermore, proper disaster management system is still clamoring to be carried out.
With so many disaster events that happened in the past, our government (most importantly) should have learned lessons from these. Destruction from such tragedies could at least be lessened, if not avoided, had our government developed effective and informative geo-hazard mapping systems as well as disaster warning systems to facilitate disaster awareness, preparedness and mitigation (if not prevention). It is also high time to seriously treat deforestation problems through massive reforestation programs and truthfully prohibit both legal and illegal logging activities especially in such landslide-prone areas.
Moreover, the need for a pro-active disaster response becomes more and more urgent. A response that is not emergency-focused and relief-oriented is needed. It should include not only post-disaster interventions but also disaster-preparedness and mitigation activities. Disaster management is aimed at increasing the people and communities’ capacity to cope with the impacts of disasters and at the same time reduce their socio-economic vulnerabilities to disaster. Essentially, disaster management must be linked to the issue of development in which the people as a whole have the most significant part.
Sr. Cecile Ruiz
Alay Bayan, Incorporated
# 54 Rue de Paree St., L&S Subdivision, Angeles City
Alay Bayan, Inc. (ABI) is a community-based disaster management institution based in Central Luzon. Founded in August 2000, ABI is committed to assisting the growing needs of the most vulnerable sectors in the most depressed areas in the Central Plains of Luzon.
ABI is currently launching a resource mobilization drive for the Southern Leyte landslide victims. You may send your donations (material or financial support) to the ABI office at 54 Rue de Paree St., L&S Subd., Angeles City. For any queries, you may call at (045)887-2521 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.