Children at a Philippines Elementary School practice an earthquake drill as part of efforts to strengthen awareness and preparedness in the quake-prone country.
By Denis McClean
GENEVA, October 17 –
The death toll in Tuesday’s 7.2 earthquake in the Philippines has risen to 156 with 3.2 million people affected including 47,000 displaced. There have been 1,213 aftershocks recorded including 24 of which were felt.
An assessment released today by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council cites damage or destruction of over 2,000 homes and damage to seaports, airports, churches, government/public buildings, hospitals and private establishments in the Provinces of Bohol, Cebu, Iloilo, Negros Occidental and Leyte.
Two bodies were recovered yesterday from the inside the collapsed Congressman Castillo Memorial Hospital and city engineers declared three other hospitals in Cebu City unsafe to be occupied.
Yesterday the Department of Education activated their disaster risk reduction and management office and announced the suspension of classes in Cebu City and the whole of Bohol which experienced the most severe impacts. Teams are currently assessing school buildings’ safety and alternative classrooms in the affected areas for the possible resumption of classes.
UNISDR champion Senator Loren Legarda called on the Philippines government to “ensure that all structures, especially bridges and hospitals are earthquake-proof through the conduct of a nationwide structural evaluation and by retrofitting these structures to allow them to withstand destructive earthquakes”.
She recalled that the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2004 demonstrated that a 7.2 earthquake in Metro Manila would cause the destruction of 40% of the residential buildings, damage 35% of all public buildings, kill 34,000 people, injure 114,000 individuals, and the ensuing fires will also result in 18,000 additional casualties.
Senator Legarda said: “Earthquakes turn into major disasters due to unsafe structures – poorly built structures, buildings in inappropriate places, inadequate design and materials specification, and shortcuts in construction. Inspection during the construction of both public and private infrastructure is important. The additional expense required for making structures safe from earthquakes is worth it especially if it would save thousands of precious lives.”
Another UNISDR champion from the Philippines, Alfred Arquillano, the former Mayor of San Francisco in the Camote Islands in the affected province of Cebu, said casualties were reduced because of public awareness of how to respond.
“Drills should be taken seriously so people do not forget they are exposed to earthquake risks. In Cebu, we conduct four earthquake drills per year, mainly in schools. This is an excellent way to prepare children to cope with earthquake risk, which is a major risk in Cebu and in the rest of the Philippines.”
Mr. Arquillano said that the number of casualties would have been higher if children had been at school. The fact that that it was a public holiday for many and that the earthquake happened at 8.12 a.m. helped save lives.
The Philippines is among the most disaster-prone countries in the world and is located between three tectonic plates – the Philippine, Sunda and Eurasia – and is exposed to regular earthquakes.
At the Fourth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction convened by UNISDR in May 2013, a High-Level Dialogue resulted in a proposal to “start a global safe schools and safe health structures campaign in disaster-prone areas with voluntary funding and commitments to be announced at the World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015”.