The wrath of Odette caught most everyone in Palawan by surprise and largely unprepared. This conclusion is evident, given how local governments and voluntary relief efforts had to face difficulties undertaking recovery and relief efforts immediately in the aftermath of the typhoon.
Even other provinces struck by Odette as it cut across the central Philippines did not anticipate what was coming and are until now struggling to get back on their feet. Cebu City which is supposed to be fairly enabled for disaster relief given its resources is still scrambling to this day to bring back basic services such as power and water supply in parts of the metropolis.
The morning after Odette in Palawan, landslides, and debris had blocked the province’s all-important mainland highway and destroyed critical bridges, isolating the towns from the capital where the main disaster response were set up to originate. The province was completely paralyzed after all commercial telecommunications services were destroyed at the height of the typhoon. Even media entities, reliant as they are on power and the internet, were immobilized to provide critical information to the public.
It has taken more time than ideal to open up areas in northern Palawan heavily hit by Odette for relief interventions. Even the assessment of the full damage caused by the typhoon remains a slow and painstaking process, which means that proper response planning that could help attain full recovery has to wait.
Odette has taught Palawan a painful crash course on disaster preparedness and all policymakers and stakeholders have to take heed. At this time of a rapidly evolving new normal environment, Odette asserts a hard point that disaster response policy should, in the context of climate change, be front and center of the governance agenda.
Mayor Lucilo Bayron of Puerto Princesa City was right in pointing out this week that Odette should change our previous mindset that Palawan is outside the typhoon belt and that we used to be immune from natural disasters. Climate change scenarios like Odette is already part of the new global reality and disaster response protocols as a component of governance are now necessarily important.
Because of its inherent vulnerability to natural disasters being an island landmass, Palawan needs to learn its lessons quickly and be prepared for the next onslaught similar, if not worse, to Odette. We need to go back to the drawing board to figure out response solutions starting with basic challenges such as ensuring that communities are capable and prepared for disaster.
We need to take stock of the science of climate change and better understand what forces we are lined up against and how best we can prepare and what solutions are needed to be in place. We need a completely redefined and updated list of success indicators for disaster response planning, as well as monitoring and evaluation systems to ensure that we are doing it correctly.
We need professional managers, beyond politicians, on top of our disaster response policy.