Effectively Reducing Disaster Casualties

Image from Katria Alampay

Image from Katria Alampay.

In the Philippines, where heavy rains commonly fall especially around the ‘wet’ season of August and September, it takes a lot for natives to feel threatened about the possible harms of the weather. It takes a lot to dampen the Filipino spirit, as they say — but this type of mindset wasn’t quite the same after Typhoon Yolanda.

It has only been a year since the natural disaster that ravaged hundreds of villages and killed thousands of people. It has taken quite a while for the country to get back up on its feet, but at the very least, lessons were learned well. The disaster risk reduction program has seen doubled efforts both from the national government and supporting non-profit organizations since then, and the country as a whole has become more wary of impending typhoons, as was the case with Typhoon Ruby, or Hagupit.

People began taking notice of it when media reports increased dramatically, describing Ruby as a ‘super-typhoon’ — a scary prospect. Here lies the difference: in comparison to Yolanda when over a hundred thousand families were displaced, the threat of Ruby led to one of the largest voluntary evacuation efforts not brought about by war. People no longer waited for local government units to come knocking at their doors; when their homes and belongings were deemed at risk, they packed up and moved to the temporary shelters. This happened all over the country, and as a result, our death toll did not even exceed 20 casualties, compared to the slaughter of Yolanda.

The difference between people’s treatment of typhoon threats then and now was very evident in the face of Ruby. Classes in all levels were suspended a full day beforehand, even when there was no rain yet in an area. Even government offices suspended operations, and the media continuously published safety precautions and evacuation reminders. At one point, it felt like everyone was holding their breath, waiting for the cruel rain to fall. And fall it did, but it was nowhere near as horrible or devastating as everyone feared.

Yes, we suffered unnecessary casualties and homes were still torn apart — but this time around, we weren’t caught off guard or unprepared. This time around, we had trucks of relief goods ready, hundreds of volunteers on standby in the evacuation centers, and various streamlined hotline centers. This time around, we were able to put up a good fight against the formidable Ruby. This commendable improvement can’t be solely attributed to a government that decided to allocate more of its budget to disaster risk reduction.

I like to think it has also something to do with people being struggling-caring beings, such as Charles Malik discussed — that in our attempt to find inner peace, we reach out and find peace with others first. The only way that we gain complete awareness and consciousness of ourselves is when we compare ourselves to others, and when we make ourselves privy to their struggles and their pain. This extreme form of empathy allowed us to take the burden of ‘saving others’ upon ourselves, instead of completely leaving the responsibility to our government.

We learned from the actual and vicarious suffering of Yolanda, and this time around, in our desire to never experience or encounter that struggle again, we made the effort to care, and to care more. I bring the example of Ruby to light because it shows to what extent we can protect others and save lives when we return to that which is most intrinsic in us — our human dignity, and our recognition that others possess this same dignity.

As we introspect and examine this inner need to be at peace and have others be at peace, we become more sensitive to the plight of our countrymen, and we become more attuned to their need to recover well from unstoppable disasters. In this way, as one nation we are then able to better exemplify that, yes, the Filipino spirit is waterproof.


Note: To track the combined efforts of the national government and NGOs in the course of Ruby, you may visit http://www.gov.ph/crisis-response/typhoon-ruby/.

By Kara Medina, a regional intern at the WYA Asia Pacific Office. Human dignity, as intrinsic and inviolable, is one of the foundations of the work of the World Youth Alliance. To learn more about us, you may visit this page.