Press Release
January 18, 2010

"Not panic but preparation"

Senator Loren Legarda today emphasized that early preparation is the best solution to natural calamities, outlining urgent measures and policy reforms to reduce disaster risk.

"There's no need to panic, but we should prepare now," said Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on climate change, and Philippine representative to the World Debate on impending natural disasters sponsored by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS) in 2002-04 warned that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7 or higher on the Richter scale will hit Metro Manila.

Legarda concurred, saying that "it is only a question of when. The occurrence of a big earthquake in Metro Manila had been discussed for the last 10 years. More preparations are needed in accordance with United Nations prescriptions on disaster risk reduction."

Legarda stressed, however, that it is not too late to make preparations.

"This is precisely why I am pushing for the integration of disaster risk reduction in the national, regional and local development policies and plans of the country," said Legarda, United Nations' regional champion for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Legarda, who chairs the Philippine Senate's committee on health, said "metrowide contingency planning" was required.

"Earthquakes do not kill, but unsafe structures do," she said. Legarda has called on the health department to check the capacity and capability of all hospitals in the metropolis.

She said the national government, including local government units in Metro Manila, should immediately assess the structural integrity of hospitals, schools, roads, flyovers and bridges and other public infrastructure.

In addition, she raised the need for "retrofitting or improving and strengthening the structures."

"We should also insure these structures, so that we do not use limited resources. We know what will happen, so let's explore transferring the risk through insurance. That's a proactive way," Legarda said.

She cited the case of Istanbul, Turkey, which was also predicted to be hit by a big quake and thus secured a $350-million grant from the World Bank.

"It has not happened but they're ready. They've been talking about it for the last 50 years, but still they're proactive," Legarda said.

She said contingency planning should involve families, barangays, municipalities, provincial governments and the national administration.

"The predominance of risks in our societies calls for urgent policy reforms. We need new policies that build local capacity beyond disaster response capability; new policies that link disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mainstream them into development action and formal education," she said.

New policies are also needed "to reduce and not worsen existing vulnerabilities and risks ... reducing risk as a prerequisite for development funding - ensure the resilience of development investments ... that are backed by scientific studies and empirical proofs ... that promote gender sensitivity and equality ... that uphold fairness and equity especially for the poor and disadvantaged," Loren declared.

The MMIERS was conducted in collaboration with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

According to the study, 16,000 buildings would be destroyed and 150,000 persons would suffer injury in the projected Metro Manila earthquake. Millions of residents of Metro Manila, one of Asia's biggest cities with a total population of 12 million, would be affected.

Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum Jr. had earlier said that the Philippine government was using the earthquake strength of magnitude 7.2 from the Valley Fault System (formerly known as the Marikina Valley Fault System) "for planning purposes" in anticipation of the big quake.

The Philippines has a history of natural disasters. On July 16, 1990, a quake with a 7.8 surface-wave magnitude struck Northern Luzon, killing 1,621 people.

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