UNDP, FAO laud early typhoon response

TACLOBAN CITY—At least two leading international aid organizations came forward to praise the Philippine government for its handling of emergency response during typhoon Ruby which   left 27 dead as it swept seven regions in the country last week.

United Nations Development Program  Administrator Helen Clark lauded “the highly effective precautionary measures put in place” which include the early evacuation of about one million people by the national government with the support of the local government units to prepare them against Ruby’s onslaught.

 “This extraordinary achievement is a clear reflection of the careful planning and strengthened institutional capacity of the relevant authorities. The Philippine Government’s approach to preparing and responding to this disaster presents an important model of building resilience for many other countries which are exposed to similar natural disasters and calamities,” Clark said in a statement.

“The United Nations, including the UNDP, stands ready to support the Philippine Government and people of the Philippines as the affected communities rebuild their lives and livelihoods,” she added.

Clark, in her letter to President Benigno Aquino III,  maintained that UNDP “is ready to provide the Philippine Government with technical assistance towards ensuring even stronger prevention, mitigation, and response capacities.”

In Tacloban city, a communication system set up by UNDP for the city proved to be critical before and during typhoon Ruby when it boosted the latter’s communication and emergency preparedness, taking also the lessons from the previous super typhoon Yolanda which ravaged the city last year, killing over 6,000 people.

In partnership with Radnet 5 (Radio Amateur Network 5), UNDP put up a centralized radio system and trained city workers on its equipment—consisted of 46 units of portable VHF radios, dual band base radios, a repeater system, and mobile base units for ambulance and rescue vehicles—to maintain communication and coordination during emergency.

“The target of zero casualties in a massive typhoon is unachievable without using advanced emergency communication systems and equipment,” said Tacloban City Mayor Alfred  Romualdez, who also thanked UNDP for the emergency communication equipment it provided.

José Luis Fernandez, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)-Representative in the Philippines, also commended the government’s “quick and timely early warnings” particularly to farmers and fishers folk whose livelihood is vulnerable to disasters like during typhoon Ruby.

“Initial reports indicate that Typhoon Ruby has thankfully been far less devastating than Yolanda for the agricultural sector,” Fernandez said in a statement.

He also praised the Department of Agriculture for its early response which included advising farmers to have early harvest of their crops, pre-positioning seed stocks and relocating their farm animals to save their livelihood.

An early advisory was also issued for the fishermen to refrain from fishing and to secure the safety of their boats and other fishing gear.

The government has estimated a total of 55,850 hectares of damage and a production loss of 56,090 metric tons (rice, corn and high value crops) in the typhoon Ruby-stricken regions of Bicol and Eastern and Western Visayas.

FAO however maintained it is ready to assist the Department of Agriculture on its rehabilitation efforts and of providing technical expertise.

According to FAO, they have established seven field offices with over 100 staff ready to offer assistance in the country following last year’s super typhoon Yolanda.

Fernandez however expressed concern for upland farmers and indigenous peoples “who often live in fragile and vulnerable ecosystems and which are highly susceptible to heavy rain, flooding and potential mudslides.”

“Many farmers are still living in temporary housing and have now been exposed to extreme weather conditions and water entering their homes, which means their stored harvest and seed stock are at risk of being damaged or destroyed,” Fernandez said.

“With approximately 70 percent of families in the affected regions either directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture and fisheries for their livelihoods, Ruby could impact the recovery of Yolanda-affected farmers and fishers,” Fernandez added.

Fernandez said they will be coordinating with the Department of Agriculture for damage and support assessments in Eastern Samar, Northern Samar and other affected areas.

Fernandez assured to deliver “fast-track mechanisms for the procurement of seeds, tools and fertilizers if required.”

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