As rescuers continue to search for missing people in Compostela Valley in the aftermath of Thursday's landslide, it has been brought to light that 2.6 million residents in 1,912 barangays nationwide are exposed to “high risk" of landslides.
The landslide “disasters waiting to happen" were identified using cross-referenced Mines and Geosciences Bureau and National Statistics Office data, according to GMA News Research.
Compostela Valley’s Barangay Napnapan — ground zero of Thursday’s landslide that killed at least 25 people — is one of the barangays at high risk.
MGB officials said they issued a disaster warning to Napnapan residents less than two months ago in November.
In April 2011, a landslide in Compostela Valley’s Pantukan town killed 14 people. The incident triggered a meeting among local officials, concerned government agencies, and representatives of mining companies to find a solution and to prevent the yearly tragedies.
In the past four years, at least 107 people have died in Compostela Valley, official data showed.
Source: GMA News Research
Poverty and high risk
GMA News Research also found that the scope of risk is widest in 27 towns where more than half of the respective populations live in barangays assessed by the MGB as exposed to high risk.
Mountainous Benguet province has five of the 27 high-risk towns — Bokod, Itogon, Kabayan, Kibungan and Tuba — and ranks as the province most at risk because 90.3 percent of its land areas is susceptible to landslides.
In three particular towns — Ambaguio and Santa Fe in Nueva Vizcaya, and Bucloc in Abra — entire populations live in high-risk barangays.
Almost half of the towns with majority of the population living in high-risk barangays are classified as low-income, fourth or fifth class municipalities.
The Department of Finance classifies a municipality as fourth class if it’s annual revenues are in the P25-million to P35-million range, and from P15 million to P25 million for fifth class.
The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 allows local government units to access its calamity fund even before any disaster strikes. Now called a disaster risk reduction fund, it comes from 5 percent of the town or provinces’ Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA).
Poverty makes the towns at high risk of landslide even more prone to disaster. The Center for Disaster Prevention (CDP) notes that these towns lack the budget for disaster preparedness, which makes them more at risk.
“Habang mas humihirap ang bayan, mas liliit itong pondo. Imagine, if your IRA is just P1 million, P35,000 lang ang puwede mong gamitin for training, preparedness and P15,000 lang ang pang-relief! Ang tanong ngayon, paano ito magkakasya sa paghahanda?" said CDP project coordinator Mayfourth Luneta.
Typhoons worsen situation
Four provinces — Ilocos Sur, La Union, Northern Samar and Western Samar — have towns with more than half of residents living in high-risk barangays. These towns include Suyo in Ilocos Sur, Burgos & Pugo in La Union, San Vicente in Northern Samar and Talalora & Catabalogan in Western Samar.
These four provinces are also among those that are prone to typhoons, based on a study conducted by the Ateneo’s Manila Observatory.
Being prone to typhoons worsens the state of these barangays because rainwater further loosens the soil, making landslide a tragedy waiting to happen.
The MGB geohazard assessment labels barangays as high risk to landslides based on these criteria:
active and/or recent landslides numerous and large tension cracks are detected areas with drainages prone to debris accumulation areas in escarpments with numerous old landslides located along steep slopes made of weak rock slope materials structures dip toward the slope face located near a fault line.MGB said it only takes a trigger event such as rainfall or earthquake for disaster to strike.
In Compostela Valley, evacuation has a twin perennial problem: where to relocate the families. Thus, residents usually return to prohibited places to be near their livelihood, the mining sites.
The consensus among stakeholders, based on the geohazard assessment, is forced evacuation of residents in high-risk barangays.
MGB has given copies of the geohazard assessments to mayors and governors and has recommended the preparation of relocation or evacuation sites.
In the case of Compostela Valley, MGB acting chief Leo Jasareno says the last warning was given in November last year.
In an interview with GMA News TV's "Balita Pilipinas," Jasareno says MGB has no police power to conduct a forced evacuation of residents in danger areas. After the risk assessment, information dissemination is as far as they can push it.
Advocacy groups take to task the local officials who are the leaders on the ground.
“Kung naka-acknowledge na ng LGU ang pagtanggap ng resulta ng study, well I think na-achieve na ng MGB ang trabaho nila. Dapat malakas ang information dissemination ng local government unit," CDP’s Luneta said.
There is a the need to shift from disaster relief to disaster preparedness. Luneta notes that with the passage of 2010 disaster law, preparedness now falls squarely on local barangay officials.
“Kailangan para sa mga lugar na high risk, sila ang mag-isip ng paraan… accept the risks, educate themselves on implementation… Dapat kilalanin nila ‘yung mga risks and telltale signs ng landslide and organize the Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office," Luneta added. — ELR/VS