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Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

May 2, 2019

At 28, I look death in the eye

In the last 28 years, I have survived an active firefight and a sinking boat. I have visited all the regions in my country. And I have seen it a few days after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda and the Marawi seige.

Just last week, I was suppose to be in Sri Lanka to attend a conference on Public Private Partnerships. If it wasn’t for law school, I would have flown in the night prior to the Easter bombing. For three hours, I read all the reports related to the incident. I shook my head in disbelief. 

Hundreds of people were killed while doing the most mundane things - having breakfast, walking to the store, going to the bathroom. Death is a reality that is most certain but also most difficult to predict.

While working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), I have seen the extensive damage caused by Typhoon Yolanda in nine of the Philippines’ poorest provinces. I can never forget the first time I saw Tacloban -- thousands of cadavers lay in debris, the streets smelled of death and decay, and in several barangays, not a single house survived. Students who were just studying for their exams woke up the next day with nothing but their shirts.

In one of our visits, I met a fourth-year high-school student, who was three months shy from graduation. Before Yolanda hit, he was studying for his exams with his girlfriend. It was supposed to be the last Christmas they would be dependent on their allowances. They dreamt of traveling together after college. It was going to be their first time.

They never had money to spare before. But in three months, they thought, everything would be all right. It could wait. After all, they had already waited for four years.

What he didn’t expect was the fact that the storm would be so strong, he would have to choose between saving his girlfriend and her one-year-old niece. For months, he would stare longingly at the sea, at the exact same spot he found his girlfriend, with a piece of galvanized iron used for roofing pierced through her stomach.

It could have been any of us. She was not even twenty. Youth does not guarantee time. In reality, what we’re only assured of is today.

To be honest, these experiences have been difficult to look at. Certain days, death scares me but every so often I find the courage to look at death in the eye and assume that every day might be my last.

A few days back, I visited Porac, Pampanga, with Secretary Mark Villar just a few hours after the earthquake toppled Chuzon Supermarket. At that time, I learned about the story of Jason dela Cruz, who at 30 years old, lost his entire family a few seconds after he dropped them off his tricycle. They were only shopping for groceries. The next time he saw Haylee, his one-year-old daughter, she was already motionless. His wife Manilyn was found hours after, crushed under a beam, clutching their seven-year-old son Jacob.

Liveable, sustainable, and resilient communities

According to Asian Development Bank, natural hazards like earthquakes and typhoons continue to cause significant loss of life in Asia and the Pacific and existing trends suggest that growth in direct physical losses is already outpacing regional expansion in Gross Domestic Product.

Critics would usually point to resiliency projects as unnecessary expense burdening the Filipino taxpayers. Some would even argue that climate change is inexistent. Working in disaster response in the last eight years, I’d say they are either insane or without conscience. It is high time that we realize that an investment in resilience is an investment in development and an investment for the next generation.

According to the 2016 World Risk Report, inadequate and inefficient infrastructure and weak logistic network significantly increases the risk for an extreme natural event/hazard to become a disaster which will result in loss of lives, damage to properties, and economic losses. Out of the 171 countries assessed, the Philippines ranked 3rd most exposed to natural hazards.

The geographic location of the Philippines renders it prone to the devastating effects of large-scale earthquakes. Bridges in particular have been proven to be highly vulnerable.

This is one of the reasons DPWH’s priority includes strengthening the resilience of the transport structures and pursuing the implementation of infrastructure backbone for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation.

Since July 2016, DPWH has strengthened and retrofitted 1,010 bridges nationwide.

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