Saturday, July 26, 2014

NE hailed as Phl’s most disaster-prepared province

CABANATUAN CITY, Nueva Ecija–The province of Nueva Ecija, which has been identified as one of the high-risk calamity areas a few years back, now has the distinction as the most disaster-prepared province in the entire country, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Governments (DILG).

          Dr. Abraham Pascua, DILG assistant regional director for Central Luzon and concurrent DILG provincial director, said Nueva Ecija was cited as the most prepared provincial local government unit (LGU) in a just concluded meeting at the DILG central office that was presided by Secretary Mar Roxas II.

          Pascua, who sits as co-chairman of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) chaired by Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali, made the revelation during a meeting of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) at the old provincial capitol here Thursday.

          Pascua said the province was cited not only for the presence of quick response disaster personnel but also the availability of equipment for rescue and relief operations. “We have so many equipment on hand so when disaster strikes, we can make use of them,” he said.

          Among these equipment, Pascua said, are a water treatment truck and boats made of fiber glass. He said the province was one of only two provinces – the other is Albay – which became a recipient of the truck.

          He explained that the water treatment truck is a vital facility during disasters because it may get water from irrigation canals and treat and convert it into potable water in the event of water shortage.

          He also said the fiber glass boats have replaced the old rubber boats which are prone to deflate when struck by hard objects.

          Pascua said that the PDRRMC is eyeing to train 15 able-bodied persons per town and city in the province to form the corps of  the council. “They will be organic personnel, not job orders and casuals and they will be given communications facilities,” he said.

Umali said the province is the only provincial LGU that knows what to do ahead of the coming typhoon. He stressed that the province effectively handled past calamities by  releasing water from the Pantabangan Dam and other irrigation systems ahead of the coming typhoons to avert floods and landslides and mitigate the impact of calamities, resulting in minimal casualties  and property damage.

          He noted that during typhoon “Ondoy,” the province suffered zero casualty because the Upper Pampanga river Integrated Irrigation Systems released water from Pantabangan Dam several  days before the typhoon came.

Umali said the province’s management of disasters is participatory in that the DILG takes a pro-active role. He recalled that when he first became governor in 2007, he involved the DILG in disaster preparedness when he appointed Pascua as council co-chairman.

“The rationale of my having appointed Director Pascua was because back in 2007, I have few allies among the mayors. I wanted the DILG to become the provincial government’s conduit with regards to disaster mitigation and also, to disabuse the minds of the local chief executives of politics in calamities,” he said.

“As a result, the mayors responded and now, they have been cooperating with us ever since.”

          Umali said in areas beyond his reach, there’s a man of the hour calling the shots, convening emergency meetings and leading the conduct of training seminars on geo-hazards and the risks of landslides and floods. 

          He said because of its disaster preparedness plan, the province was extended a P203.2-million grant in 2011 by the Spanish government to further strengthen its capability to respond to disasters. 

The grant, then the first of its kind involving disaster risk reduction, was used to fund the training component, infrastructure and livelihood in select cities and municipalities whose respective disaster councils were strengthened.

Pascua said the province was effective against calamities because Umali was always on top of the situation, micro-managing and presiding over the inspection of damaged areas and in the distribution of relief goods to affected families.
          “Over the years, the governor has been risking his life, even going to landslide-prone areas  and braving floodwaters in low-lying areas to oversee our disaster mitigation, rescue and relief efforts. He was not only visible. He was personally involved,” he said.

          Pascua said the PDRRMC also formulated a comprehensive disaster risk reduction contingency plan involving the pre-positioning of evacuation centers and relief goods. The council had five command posts and four advanced command posts in strategic areas where personnel, heavy equipment, medicines and goods are deployed and stockpiled in advance in anticipation of a forthcoming typhoon.

          Pascua said disaster management in the province has become a total team effort with concerned agencies actively involved in all aspects of disaster preparedness.

 “If you can see, the disaster mitigation efforts of Nueva Ecija is very unique because you not only cope with calamities but also the water at the Pantabangan Dam. If you don't manage the dam well enough and its water release, then you will surely end in disaster,” he said, recalling the massive flooding in Pangasinan when water overflowed from the San Roque Dam. (Manny Galvez)

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