Return to disaster areas, journalists told

By Recto L. Mercene

THE United Kingdom’s ambassador to the Philippines on Wednesday urged members of the media to return to the scene of disasters, six months, one year, or even two years after the calamities struck.

This, he said, is to find out how far the government and other relief agencies have done their job, so that the concerned agencies would be reminded to continue their projects.

“This is not unique to the Philippines,” UK Ambassador Asif Ahmad said, adding that “usually, when the cameramen and the journalists have left, you go back to the usual mode of operation.”

Ahmad made the statement at the sidelines of the UK-Japan Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief seminar held at the Peninsula Hotel, Makati City. The seminar hopes to facilitate and share the best practices of each of the participants from Asean countries.

Aside from the Philippines, the UK and Japan, there were also observers from Australia, Canada, China, Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the US.

Ahmad’s response was in answer to a query that a United Nations representative have voiced their concern that the rehabilitation efforts in Tacloban City had been “very slow.”

During a news conference in Malacañang on Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Walhström said that the rehabilitation efforts of the government “seems to be slow” because a lot of the victims remain homeless.

Walhström is also worried that the Tacloban City residents, who were affected by Supertyphoon Yolanda, will suffer once another natural disaster strike because up to now, they are still holed up in temporary shelters in Leyte and other areas in the province. The survivors also complained about the lack of food and livelihood assistance.

The UN official said the government should coordinate with local governments and communities in pushing for its disaster-risk reduction programs in fighting off the effects of climate change that brought strong typhoons in the country.

Wahlstrom started her mission in the country in 2011.

Ahmad said, “In countries where the response is stronger, that’s where journalists do their job, six months later, a year later, two years, and see what has happened, did the congressmen reviewed [the efforts]? What has actually happened.”

He said a country like the Philippines where the Senate is not geographically linked to the site of the disaster, like the Supertyphoon Yolanda-hit Central Visayas, “It’ still their [legislators’] business to make visits, conduct study tours and go back to Zamboanga, or to where [Typhoon] Pablo and other disasters hit in the past and see what needs more to be done.”

“They need to ask those questions, and what actually happens in every disaster. You can’t just react episodically from one disaster to another.”

However, Ahmad hastened to add that this problem is not unique to the Philippines because it takes a long time to reestablish livelihood.

He cited the example of Japan that was hit by a 9-magnitude earthquake in 2011 followed by a tsunami that devastated much of the residential houses in Fukushima prefecture. Ahmad also noted the devastation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, flooding much of the city in 2005.

“If you go back to Japan and New Orleans, it takes a long, long time to restore, and some people never come back to the affected areas.”




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