Following all the calamities that happened in the past few weeks, two terms were regularly being thrown about while discussing the government’s approach to tackling natural disasters (or any kind of disaster, for that matter), and its drastic effects on our homes and lives: reactive versus proactive. As the words suggest, the former refers to post-disaster risk management, while the latter zooms in on working to avoid these disasters altogether.
Many people claim that the Philippines behaves in a reactive manner, as seen in the way we’ve handled issues like the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the indifference towards deforestation and mining to further capitalist gain, and the shutting down of projects that might have prevented government units from being “caught off guard” by recent storms.
The dire consequences that follow from mishandling these issues, which had already been predicted months before, were mainly tackled and discussed by local officials just when it was already affecting us directly. This gave us little to no time to actually efficiently prepare effective quarantine protocols, and plan ahead for the impending threat of flooding and landslides across the country.
In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, the abrupt spike of active cases resulting to a sudden lockdown pushed schools to hastily convert their curriculum to a digital one, transportation hubs to lose weeks of profit while making their vehicles “social distancing-friendly,” and business operations to either go bankrupt or close down temporarily due to its inability to adapt quick enough to the New Normal.
But the threat of the virus has been circulating the world since December 2019. Yet, we only closed down our foreign borders just in May 2020, despite cases already rising rapidly day by day, and lockdown having been implemented 2 months prior. On top of this, as the rest of the country was taken by surprise at the sudden announcement of a lockdown, schools, transportation hubs, and businesses were not able to put in the necessary hours to plan out how to move forward without sacrificing its resources.
When it comes to natural disasters, one would assume that the country would be well-prepared by now as we face more than 10 typhoons each year—plenty of cases to study and form predictions on. As tropical storms are just one of the many natural challenges that come with having a country so near to several of the world’s largest oceans, it’s of the Philippines’ best interest to invest on researches and technologies that might lessen these destructions. Despite this fact, however, the government has shut down multiple projects originally designed to cater to this issue.
Such is the case with one of these discontinued projects, Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), a research operation that works to bring awareness on disaster prevention, and mitigation programs initially funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
The findings and proposals to come out of this project were supposed to be used to help construct new technologies and plans of action designed to reduce devastation in high-risk areas across the country.
In 2017, the project was shut down by the government due to “lack of funds,” and was then taken in by the University of the Philippines to what we now know as the UP NOAH Center. The organization works for the same goal of reducing natural disasters in the country, but as it is no longer funded by the government, operations took a hit and its findings are no longer being implemented in the national scale.
Projects like this could have been incredibly valuable in predicting the gravity of the flooding situation brought about by the continuous storms from Rolly to Ulysses—adapting a proactive approach to the Philippines’ constant rainfall. Alas, due to the administration’s reaction to its funding problem, we no longer have the same resource.
The thing is, until we start planning ahead and being proactive in facing issues, this won’t be the last time we’re clamoring to help each other out. Merely reacting to natural calamities, global pandemics, and more, will always incite panic and desperation to solve problems that are already attacking us head on.
As it is, instead of moving forward and progressing to the future, our energy and resources are facing back to fix issues that have been there for years but were never properly addressed. So, until we develop a proactive government and nation, we’ll always be one step behind, instead of moving forward and toward the progressive future.