Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Analysing Disaster Preparedness in Maribojoc

The destroyed Abatan Bridge that connects Maribojoc to Tagbilaran City
Maribojoc is a fourth class municipality in the province of Bohol. Located 30 kilometers southwest of Tagbilaran City, the provincial capital, the municipality is composed of 22 barangays whose residents are primarily engaged in farming and fishing.  The municipality is home to one of the oldest watchtowers in the country and one of the oldest Spanish churches in the province.

Maribojoc has a total of 20,491 people with a population density of 2.6 persons per hectare as of 2010.  Urban population consists of 26.61% of the total town population.  The population is predominantly young, with 30% of the total population aged 0-14 years old.  The productive force of the municipality is 60%.

Land formation of the municipality ranges from sea-level to very steep slopes. The highest elevation of the municipality is 304 meters above sea level.  The municipality only has around 18.99% that do not experience erosion.  Moderate to severe erosions occur in the areas with very rolling to very steep slopes.  While the municipality does not have a sewerage system, water accumulated in the terrain drain towards Maribojoc Bay on its southwest side and the Abatan River on its southeastern boundary. 

A 7.2 MW magnitude earthquake struck the province of Bohol at 8:12 in the morning of 15 October 2013.  While the earthquake affected the whole Visayas region, more particularly the island provinces of Bohol and Cebu, the epicentre of the quake was located in Sagbayan town, 46.7 kilometers from Maribojoc. This was the deadliest earthquake that hit the Philippines in 23 years. In the case of Bohol, the last earthquake experienced by the province was in 1990.

The damage caused by the earthquake to the Bohol province was estimated at USD50 billion. A total of 809 people were confirmed dead, 877 people were injured and 8 people were reported missing.  In the case of Maribojoc, while a municipal-level damage calculation is not available, several key structures of the municipalities, including its municipal hall, public market, centuries-old church were all damaged.  Several houses were damaged, and the bridged that connected the town to Tagbilaran City, the provincial capital, became unpassable that people had to take boats to cross to go to the City. This also affected significantly the provision of disaster assistance and the delivery of relief goods to affected families.  The municipality lost electricity and water provision for more than a week after the earthquake.

It was apparent that the municipal government of Maribojoc was unprepared for the earthquake, despite the fact that geological studies have already pointed out the high possibility of the island province of Bohol and the town of Maribojoc to earthquakes of this magnitude.  The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has already identified the East Bohol Fault, the only known earthquake generator in the island and is located 40 kilometers southwest of Maribojoc. Bohol is also considered one of the seismologically active geographic areas in the country and the last earthquake that the province experienced was only in the 1990.

However, a review of the comprehensive development plan of the municipality indicates that this possibility is not factored in its planning processes.  In the preparation of the Maribojoc Disaster Risk Reduction Management Plan of 2012, for example, topics discussed prior to the planning process were on typhoons, floods, and other water-related disasters and lesser on issues as earthquake and other related seismological hazards.  But hazards and risks related to earthquakes were not factored, in such a way that when the bridge connecting the municipality to Tagbilaran City collapsed, alternative transport systems were not in place and made available easily. This indicates weaknesses in planning for disaster risk reduction as also pointed in earlier study on subnational approaches on disaster management (Benson, 2009). 


The Need for an Integrated View of Disaster Preparedness

The case of Maribojoc resonate with arguments about the lack of capacity of local government units to prepare against disasters, as indicated in the researches mentioned above.  But the capacity of LGUs to plan for and address needs of communities when disaster occurs is also affected by a lot of factors. The results of this study point to the following factors below:
  •       Nature of the disaster – typhoons have early warning systems that can be disseminated widely prior to the occurrence of the disaster.  This is not something that is available to earthquakes and other related seismic events that can catch LGUs by surprise. 
  •       Certainty of occurrence - While in Bohol, the existence of a fault line already warns LGUs and communities that an earthquake can occur, and given the occurrence of earthquakes in its recent past, the certainty that an earthquake can occur cannot be predicted.  
  •          Adequacy of scientific infrastructure and systems – mapping disaster prone areas, identifying population at risk, locating safe locations for evacuation, and assessing earthquake resilient buildings, are capacities that require adequate infrastructure and system at the local level.
  •          Political will on the part of the leaders – Relocation of households at risk, or forcing them to evacuate to safer areas, require political leadership (see for example Ebay 2013). 
  •            Cooperation of local communities – disaster preparedness is not just about preparedness at the local government level.  Individuals and households should contribute into the process (see Luna 2007) by, for example, cooperating with the government in situations that call for forced evacuation.  Households, in order to cope with post-disaster resource scarcity, should prepare packed provisions that can withstand several days after the occurrence of the disaster so that they can be adequately nourished while awaiting relief operations.     
As such, apart from lack of technical and financial capacity, there is a need to look beyond the local government itself and consider several factors in disaster risk prevention and management. In a review of DRM practices across Asia and the Philippines, it has been found out that less emphasis has been made on disaster prevention as compared to disaster response. Further, it argues that even when natural disasters are seemingly caused by natural events, there is a human hand that influences the outcomes when disaster occurs (Thomas et al 2013).  Governments that do not strictly prohibit building of structures along risk areas, or households that insist on building their houses in areas that are considered flood-prone, for example, are variables that show the human hand as a cause of deaths during disasters. Thus, it is not just about nature, it is also about local actors, institutional arrangements, governance mechanisms and active citizenship that can exacerbate or reduce the impact of disaster to people and communities. Beyond distal causes, there are proximal causes of casualties in disasters that define the resiliency of communities and their capacity to bounce back after a great tragedy.