MANILA, 11 May 2011 (IRIN) - At the peak of the summer season, tropical storm Aere caught many unprepared. Almost 400,000 people were affected and 24 people lost their lives, the country's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council [ http://ndcc.gov.ph/attachments/article/208/NDRRMC%20Sitrep%20No.%209%20r... ] reported on 11 May.
But as clear skies return, the last few weeks before the rainy season are an opportunity to prepare for typhoons, Donna Mitzi Lagdameo, a disaster risk reduction consultant to the government's Office of Civil Defense [ http://126.96.36.199/ ] says.
The Philippines, an archipelago nation of more than 100 million, experiences an average of 20 typhoons a year between the months of June and December, with a strengthening of storms in recent years.
In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88120 ] submerged many parts of the capital Manila in floodwaters, killing hundreds and displacing thousands.
"Typhoon Ketsana was a wake-up call that even rich regions like the capital could be heavily [affected] by typhoons. The images of the damage left by Ketsana are still fresh to the public," said Paul del Rosario, Oxfam humanitarian programme coordinator in Manila.
Because of the huge disasters that have hit the Philippines and neighbouring countries recently, Filipinos are generally better prepared for such storms than before, he said.
But with close to 15,000 people still in evacuation centres as of 11 May, residents must do more to prepare. Specialists recommend:
Ensuring the roof and walls can withstand strong winds and heavy rains. Make necessary repairs while the weather is still good.
Working with neighbours. It takes an entire community to prepare for the typhoons. Floods can result from clogged drainage canals or overflowing rivers. Local communities and governments should clear drainage canals, repair dykes or dredge rivers if necessary. If you live near a dam, make sure you will be informed of scheduled releases so you can prepare for it.
Ensuring three days' worth of food and water supplies.
Preparing a survival kit. Have a bag containing a transistor radio, torch, mobile phone, batteries, clothes, medicines and food. Your mobile phone and transistor radio will connect you even when electricity is cut. You may be in danger of flooding or landslides so it is best to stay tuned as the storm develops.
Identifying evacuation centres. Have a plan for a safe place to go in case of an evacuation that includes different routes on how to get there. Your community should have contingency plans for this; typically, meeting places are school grounds, churches or gymnasiums.
Langdameo also stressed the importance of early-warning systems. According to a survey conducted in February-March by a local polling firm, Pulse Asia, 56 percent of the people surveyed want the government to prioritize early-warning mechanisms as part of its disaster preparedness programme. [ http://pulseasia.com.ph/pulseasia/story.asp?id=734 ]
"The results of the survey are very encouraging," said Lagdameo. "If people focus on early-warning systems rather than life jackets and rubber boats, it means they realize the importance of mitigation rather than rescue and response operations. They're thinking long term."