Dr. Malayang Tackles When Calamities Become Disasters

Dr. Malayang Tackles When Calamities Become Disasters

Silliman President Dr. Ben S. Malayang III discussed how human failures transform a calamity into a disaster, during the International Service-Learning Conference on “Disaster Response, Community Resilience and the Role of Asian Universities” held June 29 to July 1 in Iloilo City.

Image“Calamities, perhaps inevitable events, are in themselves deadly and destructive. But calamities become disasters when, because of certain failures among us – before, during and after calamities – they become even more deadly and destructive,” Dr. Malayang said.

He tackled the case of typhoon Yolanda in front of an audience convened at the Central Philippines University (CPU) and composed of academics, researchers and students from universities in 13 countries.

“We did the right things before, during and after the typhoon. But there were some things that we also did, and failed to do, before, during and after the typhoon.”

An expert in climate change and environmental policy, Dr. Malayang pointed out that the country did the right thing by tracking the typhoon, estimating both rainfall and wind speed, and predicting storm surge. He credited the government for the ready supply of relief goods and the disaster response plan that was in place.

But while the country seemed prepared, there were gaps in the preparations that magnified the effects of the typhoon.  

“Before the typhoon, we did not look at the topographic maps. We knew how much the sea level will surge given the wind level and the current, but nobody looked at the topographic map, which is the map of the elevation of the land. If they did, they would have seen that Tacloban in the first 300 meters from the shoreline is only 1 to 1.5 meters above sea level,” he explained.

The storm surge, which many did not fully understand, caused tremendous damage to property and claimed thousands of lives.

He said: “We apparently also failed to anticipate the logistical nightmare of moving relief goods and supplies across islands with limited ports, roads and airports.” He added that mangroves and trees in the forests were unprotected and were instead being cut, when they could have served as “bio-shields” and “flood mitigating vegetation”.

And these failures continued even after typhoon Yolanda left the country.

“After the typhoon, the needed relief response and rehabilitation were hampered (even to this day) by a lot of things, which added to the disastrousness of the already deadly and destructive typhoon,” Dr. Malayang stressed.

He mentioned how “legacy politics”, the feud between political clans, got in the way and delayed the distribution of needed relief goods. Dr. Malayang also lamented the absence of familiar places to go to for shelter.

“There is no ready housing and institutional rehabilitation packages (no ready designs) to help livelihoods recover. People are still in tents, while contractors and government wrangle over ‘what’s best’ for themselves and how to ‘politically denominate’ relief and rehabilitation,” he stressed.

Towards the end of his talk, Dr. Malayang highlighted the significance of evidence- and science-based policy and planning in diminishing the “tragic disastrousness” of calamities. He also said that “peace with people and nature – and a good respect for them – are a powerful buffer against calamities becoming tragic disasters.”

His talk was one of the keynote speeches during the ISL conference that was followed by the international service-learning program until July 11 which simultaneously took place in three sites: College of St. John and Filamer Christian University in Roxas City, University of St. La Salle in Bacolod and CPU in Iloilo.

Both conference and program aim for the participants to understand how universities in disaster-prone areas can better prepare for and respond effectively to tragedies that occur in their campuses and communities, and extend collective assistance to those affected by typhoon Yolanda.

Silliman University is among the partner universities tapped by the UBCHEA to assist in the administration of the international service-learning event.

Silliman sent a delegation of 14 students and three faculty and staff, headed by Prof. Emervencia Ligutom, Director of the Institute of Service-Learning and concurrently OIC-Director of Extension.  

They are: English and Literature Department Chairperson Prof. Warlito Caturay Jr., Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences museum curator Ms. Clarissa Reboton, Erla Almendral (BS Medical Technology IV), Theresa Agatha Gulle (BS Social Work IV), Killian Marie Emperado (BS Psychology IV), Sam Jarmael Grapa (BS Psychology IV), Kimberly Grace Limpahan (Mass Communication IV), Raymond Vincent Cutillar (Mass Communication IV), Denielle Magaso (Mass Communication IV), Ali Baba Akbari (Mass Communication IV), Denzyl Divinagracia (BS Marine Biology II) and Anggreini Dian Naomi Rupidara (BS Marine Biology II), as well as graduate program students Adriani Rafael (PhD in Marine Biology), Dianne Mira Yap Marine (Master of Science in Biology), Claudine Rhea Sun (Master of Science in Nursing) and Therese Jan Militar (Master of Science in Nursing).

The participants chose from among seven areas for their work experience in the three host sites: environmental conservation, agriculture, livelihood and social entrepreneurship projects, restoration and education systems, disaster preparedness and risk management, public health, and rebuilding community infrastructure.