Monday, September 15, 2008

PHILIPPINES: Deadly landslides highlight need for better geo-hazard mapping

A landslide that destroyed 30 homes in a southern mining village and left 24 people dead and many missing has highlighted the need for extensive geo-hazard mapping in a country that sits on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire and is prone to natural disasters, officials said.

A massive public information campaign to warn residents of hazards in their area is also vital, disaster experts told IRIN.

Heavy rains on 6 and 7 September brought on by a tropical depression triggered two landslides on the slopes of a mining village in Maco town, in Compostella Valley Province on southern Mindanao Island.

Rescuers battled torrential rain and walls of mud and rock to retrieve the bodies of the 24 Maco town residents. One of those killed was the village chief, Jovencio Angerra, who survived the first landslide, but ignored warnings to evacuate the area with his family. The second landslide buried Angerra’s home, killing him, his two children and their household help.

The provincial government subsequently ordered the evacuation of some 50,000 people from four villages, although many people resisted the instruction, disaster relief officials said.

Anthony Golez, a spokesman for President Gloria Arroyo and deputy chief of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, said the government's national mapping agency was working with the environment department to fast-track the completion of maps that would categorise areas based on their susceptibility to natural disasters.

Golez told IRIN that before any forced evacuation could be carried out, local governments must have put in place "a sound policy for relocation … They must pinpoint a safe place for their constituents, before they can be moved out, or else they would only swiftly return," Golez said, urging towns and municipalities to put in place warning systems to immediately respond to landslides and other disasters.

Last year, a landslide killed 10 people in the same area, and while the experience left some residents fearful, they stayed on despite warnings.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources in a report last year said the area was at risk due to poor ground conditions, as well as "unsystematic human intervention, mainly [extensive] logging and mining". It recommended that the villagers be evacuated to safer ground, and a ban on any future resettlement.

The Philippines embarked on a series of geological studies to mitigate impacts of disasters following the massive eruption of Pinatubo volcano in 1991 and a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Luzon Island the previous year. Hundreds were killed and thousands were displaced or affected in the incidents, which overwhelmed government agencies.

Lessons learned from the two incidents led to the publishing of a series of monographs and maps that eventually helped government in disaster response, although work in identifying areas that are prone to deadly landslides is still insufficient, environment and disaster relief experts said.



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