Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lessons from Japan’s quake

Lessons from Japan’s quake
Cebu Daily News - Editorial
March 12, 2011

Words can hardly describe the horror of the images seen on cable TV of the devastation wrought by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Sendai, Japan.

Cebu is fortunate to be sheltered in a way by its central location.

It is not among the eastern seaboard provinces in the Philippines covered by Tsunami alert level 2, where one-meter-high waves are expected.

But make no mistake, the country’s 7,100 islands are vulnerable to superstrong wave action, if Nature decides to unleash a surprise.

The average citizen is not prepared for a disaster like the Japan tsunami or an earthquake like the one that reduced first-world buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand, to rubble.

In fact, the average citizen is not prepared for more ordinary disasters like a household fire or monsoon street flooding.

Aside from lack of top-of-mind awareness of how to cope with an emergency, entire cities are built on foundations subject to weak enforcement of Building Code rules that are themselves far from ideal.

International architect and urban planner Jun Palafox, who recently guested in a Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) Visayas membership meeting in Cebu, repeated his warning that the Building Codes in the country are “outdated.”

Many structures are not up to par for safety and stability, although they have papers approved as proof of compliance with the Office of the Building Official.

Palafox said he truly fears the country is not ready for the “Big One,” a superstrong earthquake that experts say is an inevitable consequence of being located in an earthquake belt.

What is needed, more than technical changes of the rules, he said, is political will.

Palafox recently travelled to Mumbai, India, where he said the officials, after being told the Building Code and regulations were obsolete, demolished thousands of structures at once.

Can we find that kind of political will in local leaders?

Dismantling a dozen shanties along the Mahiga Creek in Cebu City is a weak response to the scenario of a city underwater, if one has to make a dramatic fast-forward look.

Dramatic? Overstated? Exaggerated?

After the anomalies of Nature we’ve witnessed in countries around the world, including Typhoon Ondoy, nothing should be belittled as an isolated, unfortunate experience.

What is unfortunate is the abuse of the environment and excessive, mindless consumption of limited resources by human tenants of a fragile world.

The mistakes are all man-made.

The consequences as seen in Nature, and wacky weather patterns, can only prompt us to act, with more vigor, towards helping the victims of disaster and trying to reverse patterns of behavior that bring us to the edge of destruction.