International and National Experiences
We have all heard of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal last April 25. The earthquake claimed thousands of lives and flattened villages. Less than 3 weeks later, on May 13, Nepal was hit again with a 7.3 magnitude aftershock. More lives were lost, more people were injured, and more resources were damaged. Unfortunately, it is possible that casualties and damages will increase with the coming months. The land that was destabilized by the earthquakes can lead to numerous landslides during the monsoon months.
These kinds of disasters are not new to us. The Philippines being in the Pacific Ring of Fire is prone to geohazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The northern part of Luzon had in fact been jolted with an earthquake of the same magnitude as the April 25 Nepal earthquake on July 16, 1990. Thousands died and we suffered more than USD 300 million worth of damage.
Most recently in October 15, 2013, you may remember that Bohol and Cebu were devastated by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Scores of people died and priceless historical sites were damaged.
Earthquake as one of the Major Disasters
On a yearly basis, 70-75 damaging earthquakes occur throughout the world according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the USA. Earthquakes are one of the major natural disasters with a high mortality rate and very wide-spread destruction About 130 million people were exposed every year to earthquake risk.
We are also aware that earthquakes differ from other natural disasters in several aspects. Unpredictability and rapid effects are the major characteristics of earthquakes, which can occur at any time of the year and any time of the day and night. Another important characteristic of earthquakes is that they can trigger secondary disasters, such fire, hazardous material release or dam failure. Landslides caused by the recent earthquake in Nepal involved rock falls and sliding of rock fragments on steep slopes. Tsunamis produced by a submarine earthquake can reach 80 feet and can devastate coastal cities and low-lying coastal areas, such as what happened in Aceh, Indonesia.
I am also concerned that vulnerability to seismic hazards is not the same all around the world. Urban areas, for instance, are the most vulnerable with their concentration of buildings, infrastructure and population. If the earthquake that happened in Bohol had occurred in Manila, the losses would surely be much higher and the effects could have been more devastating.
It is quite significant to note that a few days ago, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology distributed an atlas showing in detail areas traversed by the major earthquake fault line. Philvolcs handed copies of the Valley fault line atlas, a handbook of large scale maps that trace the 100 kilometer West Valley Fault traversing hearts of Metro Manila and the adjoining provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Rizal and Cavite.
This active fault line system has the potential of generating up to 7.2 magnitude earthquake that can devastate the capital and nearby provinces for a total of 18 cities and municipalities.
This is the product of 2 years of work by a small scale team of Philvolcs geologist led by its Director Renato Solidum. In year 2000, Philvolcs issued maps in 1 is to 10,000 map scale which made it hard to know whether our houses was near the faultline. The new maps now have a 1 to 5,000 scale where you can see the streets so can know if you are near the faultline.
Philvolcs said in the last 1,400 years, the West Valley Fault was lowered every 400 to 600 years, and the last earthquake in the area occurred in 1658, or 357 years ago, which is not too far from the regular 400 year cycle.
Thus we should be aware that a big earthquake will hit Manila and vicinities in the not too distant future.
Lopez’ Response and Contribution
I established the Oscar M Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Foundation, Inc. or OML Center in 2012 whose aim is to develop innovative solutions to mitigate risks and impacts not just of climate change but also of geohazards through science-based efforts.
In fact, one of the grantees that is being supported by the Center through Project Grants is the Earthquake Megacities Initiative or EMI. The project is about mainstreaming disaster risk reduction (DRR) into land use planning by developing competencies, tools, and a community of practice. The project aims to reinforce and build the competencies of the Quezon City Technical Working Group (QC TWG) members (City Planning and Development Office, Engineering Department, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, Parks Development and Administration Department) in Risk Sensitive Land Use Planning (RSLUP) by designing a learning platform that promotes knowledge sharing and sustains knowledge transfer.
At the end of the engagement, the project will develop tools that would allow a better visualization of earthquake and flood impact to development sectors such as physical, environment, economic, infrastructure, and social sectors and also a raining module and mentoring program on mainstreaming Disaster Risk and Reduction or DRR in comprehensive land use planning While the project will be implemented in Quezon City with the possibility of scaling up at the national level once the training and mentoring process has been defined and tools have been developed and made available for use by other local governments.
We all know that the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Filipinos lose their lives and resources such as infrastructures are damage every year due to disasters.
In view of the vulnerability of our country to various disasters, I hereby propose a national preparedness day where we can all focus on enhancing awareness of and readiness to disasters. The OML Center is spearheading the move to generate the support of all sectors towards this end. We envision a country that is well-prepared for disasters.