RAINS are here.

Bracing with whatever the rain comes with like flashfloods, waterspouts, landslides and the merely flooding of Cagayan de Oro City’s main streets is a matter of preparations and choices.

And Kagay-anons shudder each time a heavy downpour coupled with lightning and thunder envelopes the city.

The rain has become a reminder of the gripping horror that the city went through when Typhoon Sendong (International code name: Washi) struck the city eight days before Christmas of 2011.

With the climate change, nothing is stable in the world today. Countries all over the world have been experiencing extreme climate and weather disturbances and the Philippines is not exempt.

As a tropical country that is cyclically visited by typhoons, rain isn’t new to the Filipinos, but the amount of rainfall it brings is a different story. Too much rain, forest denudation, river siltation, growing population and chaotic urbanization have led to disasters.

Sendong sent us a horrifying message.

In an interview with the city disaster officer Armen Cuenca, he said that Sendong has been “a blessing in disguise” for it has turned the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management to fare well in handling imminent dangers brought by Typhoon Pablo that hit the city in December 2012 and the incessant rains early this year before summer started.

“CDRRM is aiming more at preparedness rather than response. Look at Pablo, the city preparedness spared us from losing lives. The more prepared we are at disasters, the less we need to respond. If there’s a need to respond, it will just be minimal such as helping people who might be hit by fallen trees or posts, but not on responding on anything that is related to flooding,” Cuenca said.

Part of strengthening its CDRRM is the newly launched Infoboard project powered by Smart Telecommunications. All its transactions are free of charge.

It disseminates information on weather disturbances to all stakeholders and they should subscribe by visiting the CDRRM office.

“It is important that any stakeholder should register because it is a requirement from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). We cannot just subscribe one without showing up to the office, with this, we will know that the person is taking the Infoboard seriously,” he adds.

The Infoboard can’t cater to all the more than 500,000 residents in the city.

“Take for example, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), its head is subscribed to the Infoboard and she disseminates the information to PNRC members and affiliates.

“If we flood the Infoboard with individual subscription, it will lag due to traffic and we can’t allow that, so we prefer that for each group or organization there should be one representative. This representative will be the one who will spread the advisories and warnings.”

But, the Infoboard would be useless without the early warning devices that accurately feed information to it.

Thus, making the process and transmission of these warnings expensive considering that the devices entail huge expenses. These are the rain gauge, water level sensor and the Doppler radar.

The rain gauges have been installed in Talakag, Baungon, Kinawe and Libona town center, San Simon, Pigsag-an, and the latest is installed in Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon.

Meanwhile, the water level sensors have been installed in Kabula, Bubunawan and Cagayan River near Rotunda.

With regard to the Doppler radars, the city checks the radars in Hinatuan, Cebu and Tampakan in South Cotabato to get more accurate data.

Triangulation

“This is what triangulation does. With this, we can get the amount of rain and the flood that comes with it. Getting all the information from these devices help us localize the weather advisory and give an accurate weather tracking. The Infoboard gives warnings until it is time to leave low-lying areas,” Cuenca explains.

The message sent in the Infoboard is in the dialect for the people to fully understand the advisories and warnings. It is devoid of technical language found in the Pagasa advisories.

“The message is 90% in Bisaya. It points out the areas that are high risk at the time there is an imminent flood. Thus, people affected are alerted hours before the condition could worsen.”

The CDRRM office is manned 24/7. Its hotline is 888.

In terms of responding to disaster, Cuenca said the CDRRM has its Quick Response Team (QRT) and it only has the basic needs and lack the equipment needed to respond especially on earthquakes.

The QRT team doesn’t even have the dry suit that could help the staff to last for more than a day of responding to disasters. “An overnight rain couldn’t hold the responders long because they can’t stand the cold.”
Responding on collapse buildings in earthquake is beyond the QRT’s capabilities since there aren’t equipments that could detect survivors through Xray cameras or the sound devices.

“We can only do what we can, when earthquake comes, God forbid.”

For her part, Anna Caneda, director of the Office of Civil Defense in Northern Mindanao, said OCD focuses on capacity development of local government units, mitigation, preparedness and prevention.

OCD works closely with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for advisories.
It also focuses on providing information to the LGUs.

Informal settlers

She cites the lack of multi-hazard maps is one difficulty that has to be hurdled by the LGUs.

These maps can provide information vital in planning especially in metropolis where informal settlers have clogged the waterways of the cities that have been contributing to the flooding once the amount of rainfall goes beyond the capacity of the city to hold and drain water quickly.

“Infrastructure plays an important role considering that old drains couldn’t anymore hold the volume of water when the rainfall is heavy.

These drains should be replaced. The informal settlers should also be relocated to declog the waterways and even expand them so the rainfall can’t be stuck that causes the flooding,” she explains.

But, reforms on informal settlers will be very arduous and expensive. It is a long-term solution to address flooding in the city, Caneda adds.
Climate change

With climate change, Caneda hopes that local chief executives will find more ways to solve climate change-related problems because the people are very serious on how their local governments address these.

“People would ask now where have the taxes gone and what happens to ordinances that would keep the city away from disastrous floods and inconvenience of mere flooding whenever it rains. I am sure that mayors, governors, and councilors regardless of party affiliations will work together so the electorates would see concrete actions to these problems,” Caneda tells Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on phone.

Caneda opines that short-term solutions are here to stay, while long-term ones should go beyond politics for when disaster strikes no one will be spared and everyone gets affected regardless of status in life.
“Climate change doesn’t wait for horse trading. It needs fast and doable solutions. The role of civil society is vital here and we are thankful they are around to make noise,” Ms. Caneda said.

The government has been spending millions in order to purchase these equipments. A Doppler radar costs P300 million apiece.

Caneda urges the local chief executives to heed warnings and ensure that wherever they go they are online especially on days when disaster looms.
She adds the barangays also must have mobile Wifis, although she highly recommends the DSL Internet connection, to also get information especially that Project Noah is very effective while the Infoboard is another source of accurate and local information.

“For those who have smartphones, the Project Noah has been very helpful. Individuals can now determine what to do once rainfall gets worst or the situation in areas where they are or in their residences.”

As Kagay-anons brace for the rains, preparation is better than a pound of cure.

To heed early warnings is lifesaver.