SENATOR LOREN LEGARDA How Prepared Are We? Privilege Speech on Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster

March 14, 2011

Mr. President,
Sympathies to Japan
As I speak before this august chamber, Japan, the world’s second largest economy, reels from the devastating impact of its worst earthquake and tsunami disaster in a century, ushering an unprecedented hardship for her people.
As a Philippine Senator and the United Nations champion for disaster and climate risk reduction, I wish to convey my profound sympathy and condolence to the people of Japan.
A major benefactor of the United Nations, Japan has generously helped countries struck by similar disaster and has contributed much to the efforts of developing nations, including the Philippines, in reducing disaster risks.
To extend any possible help to Japan, however modest in means, is an appropriate humanitarian response the Philippine Government could make in this difficult period for Japan.
Lessons to learn and relearn
Japan is renowned for its people’s familiarity with and understanding of the natural phenomena of earthquake and tsunami. The country also possesses the cutting-edge early warning technology for these natural hazards and strictly observes building codes and standards for disaster-resilient infrastructure. Yet, despite all these capacities, the toll on human lives, property, and infrastructure from last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami has been heavy and rising still.
I am certain that there are lessons we must learn as well as lessons we must relearn from this latest disaster.
MMIERS earthquake risk findings
But, just as we had to respond immediately to the threat of tsunami waves surging into our coastal communities last Friday, we have to tackle urgently and head on the serious earthquake risk that prevails in Metro Manila, together with the threat of a tsunami generated in Manila Bay, just as it happened in 1677 and 1863.
The experts’ report on the probable scenarios of earthquake impact in Metro Manila has been out since 2004: the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study or MMIERS. This report conveys two important messages to the public:
First, a big inland earthquake of 7.2 magnitude can happen anytime in Metro Manila, to be triggered by the movement of the West Valley Fault since 1658.
Second, the impact of such earthquake in Metro Manila is foreseen to be serious: 169,000 houses will be destroyed and 340,000 other houses will be damaged, which consist 40% of the residential buildings in the metropolis. 35% of all public buildings including schools and hospitals, city halls, fire and police stations, will be damaged. Seven bridges will likely fall off. All these structural failures will result in 34,000 deaths and 114,000 injuries. The ensuing fires will also result in 18,000 additional fatalities. 4,000 or 86% of water pipelines will break. Electricity and telephone lines will be interrupted. And the whole Metro Manila will become segregated into four sectors isolated by collapsed structures, fires, and damaged roads, thereby making evacuation and emergency response.
Reducing earthquake risk
Given this, may I pose this question to all: Are we prepared to respond to this national crisis scenario? To all national and local leaders: Are we doing all we can to lessen the possible losses from this likely earthquake event? Have we acted upon the key recommendations of the report?
Mr. President,
The study which was jointly undertaken by JICA, MMDA and Phivolcs, aimed at formulating a masterplan for reducing earthquake impact in Metro Manila towards ensuring a safer metropolis. Its foremost recommendation was to enhance the legal framework and institutional capacity for disaster risk management in Metro Manila. In particular, the report recommended the passage of a comprehensive law on disaster risk reduction and management. On this recommendation, I wish to state that, as legislators, we have done our job.
However, the required action by the local government units and other agencies of government on the other key recommendations must be monitored and their progress reviewed if we truly mean business.
We also need to look into the state of our early warning systems for tsunami early warning and our national and local emergency preparedness and response for earthquake and tsunami, including our system for requesting and receiving international humanitarian assistance.
Moreover, we must examine the capacity of our local communities to implement disaster risk reduction measures, especially in the barangays, towards strengthening local capacity to prevent and prepare for any disasters.
For safer schools and hospitals
Furthermore, it is important that action is being done to find out the earthquake vulnerability of our schools and hospitals, two most critical public infrastructures, that must be made safe from any disaster, and the means by which we could rectify any deficiencies found.
I am pleased to inform the Senate, that in last month’s launch of the UNISDR’s campaign on making cities resilient, the Department of Education and the Department of Health, together with MMDA and eight city mayors, committed to assessing the disaster risk and instituting risk reduction measures in all schools and hospitals in Metro Manila.
This commitment, however, we must all see translated into immediate action and measurable outcomes.
Disaster risk reduction made integral part of school education
Lastly, I wish to emphasize once again the importance of making our youths know and understand natural hazards, such as earthquake and tsunami, and how their impacts translate into disaster situations. School children must know the difference between a tsunami and a tidal wave, and the natural early warning signs of an approaching tsunami. The integration therefore of disaster risk reduction into our school curriculum is something we must pursue and ensure that is done.
I have spoken before this chamber many times, urging authorities to put in place the necessary mechanisms for effective disaster risk reduction and management, emphasizing the need to act immediately, and giving a glimpse of what could happen if we fail to do so. And this I shall continue to do to secure a safer and brighter future for the nation. This is my responsibility as a Senator, and my commitment to the Filipino people.