Reactive Policies

INSIGHT AVENUE

DUMAGUETE CITY – Foresight is one thing that seems to be the Holy Grail in policy making. Most of the time, measures to mitigate disastrous situations take form only when the dust has settled. This is not endemic in the Philippines alone. Several countries are currently facing life-threatening challenges that could have already been mitigated through careful planning and implementation of appropriate action before the doomsday clock had had the chance to tick.

One of the most glaring examples of the tragedy of reactive policies is South Africa. Come summer, four million people of affluent Cape Town will have to face their own water Armageddon. Due to a population boom, record drought, and climate change, one of the richest African cities is approaching “Day Zero” — the day the city will have to shut off taps to homes and businesses because of depleted reservoirs. Day Zero is inevitable, officials say, so they plan to surround the city with armed guards to keep the peace while the city attempts to ration drinking water to its residents.

Here’s the tragic bit. Experts had already warned the South African Government of something like this happening as early as the 90s but no clear action was taken. In an interview with National Geographic, South African resource management expert Anthony Turton said that government officials tasked to administer water in Cape Town believed that “this would be a short-term drought and that things would return to normal at some point.” Now, the government is playing catchup putting up desalination plants that can convert sea water to potable water and constructing new water wells. Projections show that these structures are no way near completion making Day Zero no longer a question of if but when.

The Philippines also had its tragic taste of reactive policies. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said that local executives of Leyte already knew about the possibility of 12 meter-storm surges two years before Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the province leaving death and destruction in its wake. PAGASA provided inundation maps to the Leyte LGU under the READY project funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) as early as 2011, well before Yolanda happened. These maps specified worst-scenarios and even outlined suggestions in mitigating disasters. These included massive mangrove planting along the shorelines and the construction of rigid seawalls and breakers with piled foundation for added protection. With a devastating death toll and thousands more missing, the LGU sadly missed an opportunity to alleviate the effects of a super typhoon had they immediately acted upon the suggestions of PAGASA.

Here’s one that I would like to challenge our own LGU to prepare for. Given our proximity to Mindanao and an evident influx of foreign tourists, a terror attack is a clear and present danger. To make the situation even more alarming, the AFP came out with a statement on March 6 that 23 Islamic extremist groups are believed to have joined forces and have called themselves “ISIS Philippines.” While this information still remains to be verified, we cannot just sit on it. There should be measures in place to avert terror attacks, beef up security in high-density locations like malls and churches, and improve intelligence gathering. As they say, the best defense is a good offense that involves multi-sectoral preparedness. Being caught unaware would come at a price too costly to pay.

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