NOVEMBER 25, 2008
(STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Graciano P. Yumul Jr., PhD - (Extreme weather events, flooding, landslides and related natural hazards: Are we indeed prepared for disasters?)

(Second of two parts)

A positive thing going for the country is that almost all of the stakeholders in the country are involved in disaster mitigation, with the national government giving a lot of attention and pouring substantial resources in the last three and a half years.

Resources are available to purchase five Doppler radars (in Tagaytay, Subic, Cebu, and two in Mindanao) and to upgrade two existing radars (in Baler and Baguio) to full Doppler radar capability.

The Japanese government, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), is working with the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (DOST-Pagasa) in installing three additional Doppler radars (in Guian, Samar; Virac, Catanduanes; and Aparri, Cagayan) along the eastern seaboard.

Three years ago, we only had one upper air station operative in Laoag. Flying meteorological balloons allows us to have a peek of what is happening in the upper atmosphere in terms of humidity, temperature, wind direction and wind speed, among others. Resources were made available to put up three additional upper air stations (in Tanay, upgraded through the help of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO)/National Science Council of Taiwan; in Legazpi and Cebu stations, through DOST).

Additional money from the 2008 Calamity Fund was given by the national government to put up two more upper air stations (in Davao and Palawan). Our flood forecasting sub-stations in the Agno-Pampanga River Basin are being rehabilitated and upgraded through a JICA grant, whereas community-based flood mitigation programs in Agus (Mindanao), Jalaur (Iloilo) and Baler (Aurora) are being implemented through the help of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). Several foreign-funded weather and climate-related initiatives involving Australia, China and the US, among others, are ongoing now. The DOST-Pagasa has procured and put up satellite receiving stations that included MTSAT (Japan), NOAA (US), MODIS (Terra/Aqua) (US), and FY2 (China).

The NAIA and Cebu Pagasa offices have their own World Area Forecast System (WAFS), which is critical to aviation-related weather forecasting. In support of the Nautical Highway Program of the country, the DOST-Pagasa has received money to initially put up two marine meteorological buoys that will serve as offshore synoptic stations. Simultaneously being done is the continuous upgrading of Pagasa’s human resource capacity in meteorology, climatology and hydrology in terms of training and graduate study support under the DOST Advanced Science and Technology Human Resource Development Program (ASTHRDP). Clearly, the national government has put up a lot of resources to upgrade the forecasting capacity and capability of our meteorological agency. This is consistent with the various directives of the President to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) as the DOST-Pagasa’s responsibility as a warning agency involves the saving of lives and properties.

The NDCC, spearheaded by the Department of National Defense-Office of Civil Defense, is engaged in an extensive information, education and communication campaign to ensure that the populace would know how to prepare and, if needed, to act whenever a disaster hits the country. To mitigate risks, the national government, as a whole, tries as much as possible to minimize or even eliminate the exposure or vulnerability of the people to hazards. The community-based approach in preparing people has been very successful. Two major reasons for the success are: a) the enhanced capacity of the local chief executives to deal with natural hazards and the attendant risks, and b) the ownership assumed by the people at the grassroots level in terms of disaster risk reduction. Unfortunately, in spite of all the preparations we make and the resources we pour in, the effects of an extreme weather event hitting the country can still be devastating. The strength and resiliency of our people have always been instrumental in bringing back a disaster-hit place back on its feet. Government-private sector-civil society partnership has also been important in this respect.

Having extreme weather events is a reality that we have to face year in and year out. New challenges, in the light of growing concerns related to global warming, are appearing, such as changing precipitation patterns and varying hydrological characterization vis-a-vis an evolving physical landscape and population movement. We all have to ensure then that everyone would be doing his/her share in mitigating the adverse effects of extreme weather events. The national government’s implementable policy directions, measurable, reportable, verifiable and sustainable mitigation and adaptation measures, appropriate technologies and an educated populace are critical if we want to reduce disaster risks in the country. The availability of early, accurate, useful forecasts and warnings followed by effective communication to the grassroots level eliciting the correct response from the intended recipients will help the country cope with natural disasters. This is not just the responsibility of the government. Everyone must consider disaster risk reduction a way of life. Then and only then can we say that we are prepared for natural disasters.

* * *

Dr. Graciano P. Yumul Jr. is the undersecretary for research and development of the Department of Science and Technology. He is also a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, College of Science, University of the Philippine-Diliman (on secondment to DOST). He can be contacted at

View Part 1 of this article

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved