Friday, December 30, 2011

University of the Philippines holds press conference on U.P. Padayon Disaster Response Team deployment to Iligan City

U.P. President Alfredo E. Pascual during the press
conference held at Quezon Hall, U.P. Diliman
By Chanda Shahani

A multi-disciplinary team of experts from various units of the University of the Philippines (U.P.) and U.P. President Alfredo E. Pascual reported to the media today U.P.'s initial assessment of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Sendong in Iligan City. Typhoon Sendong hit Cagayan de Oro and the Iligan City areas last December 16 and 17, 2011.

"This is a good time to share what U.P. has done with respect to Mindanao. U.P. has a unique role because of its capability to provide a quick response to crises such as these as well as also provide longer term solutions to disaster risk reduction and management," he said.

President Pascual said he was in Hong Kong on December 16 and 17, attending the centennial celebrations of Hong Kong University when the disaster struck. He said he immediately instructed U.P. Vice President for Public Affairs J. Prospero de Vera, who is also a professor at the U.P. Diliman's National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) to immediately formulate a U.P. response to the disaster

From left to right: VP for Public Affairs Prospero de Vera,
President Alfredo E. Pascual, Prof. Mahar Lagmay and AVP
for Public Affairs Danilo Arao
Correspondingly, a multi-disciplinary team from U.P. units in Diliman and Manila was assembled for quick deployment to Iligan City last December 27 to 29, 2011, since it had become apparent to President Pascual that Cagayan de Oro was in better stead from relief efforts from other sectors, while Iligan City was comparatively just as devastated, but more neglected. V.P. de Vera was designated by President Pascual to head the U.P. Padayon Disaster Response Team.

President Pascual said U.P.'s choice of Iligan City for its intervention was based on its own assessment as well as with consultations with Senator Koko Pimentel, a U.P. Diliman graduate, whose family has strong roots in nearby Cagayan de Oro City.

The multi-disciplinary team was made up of four main components:
  • A medical mission team from U.P. Manila - PGH and local volunteers. These were made up of pediatricians, community doctors, psychiatrists, emergency medical staff and nurses. 
  • A public health team from U.P. Manila and U.P. Diliman, including public health experts and sanitary and civil engineers. 
  • Geologists from the U.P. National Institute of Geological Sciences 
  • A forensics team from U.P. Manila - PGH and the U.P. Diliman's National Sciences Research Institute Analysis Laboratory. 
All the four teams conducted quick ocular inspections of calamity sites in Iligan City as of December 29, 2011.

The teams will provide recommendations on Monday, January 2, 2012 to President Pascual, and these will be forwarded to the City of Iligan and also to Senator Koko Pimentel.

Vice President de Vera said that a lot of bodies in the area still needed to be unearthed. He said working arrangements had been made with Vice President Jejomar Binay and Makati City Mayor Junjun Binay for the City of Makati to send K-9 units for the detection of bodies. All that was needed was to make arrangements for the dogs to be transported, he said.

He also said that U.P. had partnered with Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology to collect rainfall data for U.P.'s computer simulations on the area.

Here is what the four teams essentially accomplished during their trip to Iligan:

Medical Mission Team from U.P. Manila

The team took care of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and health needs. The health team treated 1440 evacuees on December 28 at Barangay Digkilaan. Out of a population of 5,000 27 were listed as dead and 28 were missing. The most common medical problems were upper respiratory tract infections and gastro-intestinal disorders with several cases of PTSD. A total of PhP 400,000.00 worth of medication was brought to the site. In the press conference, the medical team was represented by Dr. Carlos Primero Gundran, a specialist in disaster medicine.

Public Health Team from UP Manila and UP Diliman

The Public Health Team consultations, led by U.P. Manila College of Public Health Professor Buenalyn Teresita Ramos-Mortel on December 28, 2011 occurred at the DOH-CHDNM Operation Center in Iligan City Hall, the Juan Actub Lluch Evac site with a population of 528 persons, the Ubaldo Laya Evac Site with a population of 1,299, the MSU - IIT Evac Site with a population of 1,030 as well as two additional evacuation sites.

The team observed varying levels of organization and a common need for continuous supply if drinking water, water for sanitation, food provisions and sanitation facilities. There were inadequate numbers of comfort rooms and waste bins and all sites were reliant on aid and donations.

Both teams were not yet ready with their full reports, Vice-President de Vera said, adding that they would be submitted on Monday, January 2, 2012.

Geologists from U.P. Diliman National Institute of Geological Sciences

The Geohazard Team was headed by Dr. Mahar Lagmay of the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) at U.P. Diliman The team's mission was to collect the geohazard data of devastated areas and also to check the viability of permanent relocated areas.

Dr. Lagmay said that the devastation in Iligan was worse than Cagayan de Oro (CDO). The impact was really visible in Iligan, he said A NASA TRMM satellite positioned showed that the storm warning of NASA was already spotted several days before it hit landfall in Mindanao. It peaked 20 kilometers from the clouds, indicating a heavy volume of water

Water measurements reached 142 mm on December 16 and 97 mm on December 17 as measured in the CDO airport with the rain peaking between 6 to 7 p.m. on December 16 and with floods between 11:30 1:30 a.m. on December 16 to 17.

CDO was hit with three times the water volume as the Marikina watershed during the devastating Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, Dr. Lagmay said.

Most of Iligan was impacted with high velocity floods. The Mandulog River itself accumulated water. The component villages or barangays of Santiago, Hinaplonan and Upper Hinaplunan which are all located in Iligan City were the most heavily hit, Dr.Lagmay said during the press conference

Dr. Lagmay said that the flood waters reached up to eight meters in height and were characterized by high velocity and carried logs, sand and mud. They were rampaging and were highly erosive, "like a tsunami," but with more debris. Even trees were ripped away from their foundations, he said.

Flood plains were part of the water system during extreme weather events, he said making them unsafe for human habitation

He said that illegal logging aggravated the flooding but the primary reason was that it was an extreme water deluge that was primarily responsible.

He called for a proper geohazard assessment of the area, adding that places like Santiago may not be inhabitable anymore.

There are two approaches, he said to Disaster Readiness and Preparedness:

First are the conventional hazards triggering operational responses to emergency management.

Second is a development oriented vulnerability based framework with an emphasis on vulnerability as a factor in sustained development.

It is in the second component that U.P. with its bank of experts can help tremendously in having a long-term institutional response to disasters.

We must review where hazards are and plan accordingly, he said, through the use of geohazard maps. However, another technique was to conduct computer simulations using topographic maps of the government. He stressed that an Iligan-style of Cagayan De Oro City style even could happen anywhere in the Philippines given sufficient volume of water.

Dr. Lagmay also said that even with geohazard maps, if local governments were not prepared, there would still be major problems. He stressed that it was very important to conduct drills. He said local residents needed to be briefed on where they could escape to; including evacuation routes and places to go to seek refuge from violent nature.

Forensics Team

This was headed by Dr. Raquel Fortun of the UP College of Medicine and Dr. Ma. Corazon de Ungria of the UP-National Science Research Institute DNA Analysis Lab

Their job was to assist local governments help their constituents have closure by assisting with cadaver management through the creation of a missing persons list and to help work with the national Bureau of Investigation in obtaining DNA samples of dead persons.

“The urgent task, as of yesterday, is to come out with a missing persons list,” Dr. de Ungria said during the press conference. “People cannot move on unless they know that their friends and loved ones are still alive or already dead,” she said, adding that many of the victims were still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

President Pascual said U.P.'s role in such events as the Iligan City disaster was to research to bring together experts on disaster risk reduction. "There will be more disasters hitting the country in the future," he said, adding that such disasters would be triggered mainly by climate changes and changes in population.

He said U.P.'s role was to help prepare local governments in ways to better manage disasters. Citing the University of the Philippines Charter of 2008 (R.A. 9500), he said U.P. was mandated to provide various forms of public service and technical assistance to civil society.


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