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Rough Cuts| CoViD 19: Every country caught flat-footed

Vic N. Sumalinog

Towards the end of the year 2013 super typhoon Yolanda, no doubt, made the biggest devastation in a huge area in the Eastern Visayas, specifically in Tacloban City where it struck the strongest, and in Samar, in some provinces and cities in Central and Western Visayas and in some areas in Southern Luzon.

It had virtually paralyzed the economic activities in several provinces and cities in the regions concerned after the power generation and distribution facilities were destroyed by the strongest typhoon to ever hit the country in its history.  The destruction of the power generation and transmission facilities rendered the affected areas without electricity for weeks.

Even the most important infrastructures including communications lines in the regions concerned were destroyed. As a consequence several places were isolated for a period of time. But the impact of super typhoon Yolanda and the many subsequent typhoons in the years that followed did not paralyze the economy of the entire country. Production of goods continued, in the process allowing the supply chain to go unhampered. All of these were due to the continuing efforts of the government and the people to keep the culture of preparedness for the occurrence of such devastating phenomenon. 

Today it ranks first among countries with the most number of CoViD 19 cases and the most number of deaths — over one hundred fifty three thousand as of last Sunday. The total cases in the Philippines as of the same day already breached the 100 thousand mark, with deaths hitting a little over one thousand. Clearly this is already a cataclysmic situation. The disastrous effects of the pandemic are however, not only on the number of people infected by the virus but on its serious impact on the economy of countries. In the case of typhoons and other natural disasters deaths, injuries of people, and the damage on the economy are only accounted for in the areas directly affected. However, under the existing health emergency the casualties whether in terms of those sick, and the paralysis of the economy stunned everyone. The disadvantaged sector though gets the double whammy. They are mostly vulnerable to the CoViD infection. They too, are those who stand to suffer the most with the steep regression of the economy. 

But why has the government not given even an iota of idea to consider preparatory efforts for the possibility of a health pandemic hitting the country? Has no one remembered that history is replete with records of deadly health pandemics that killed millions of people? 

Yes, history tells us of the deadly black plague, the one borne by rats; the smooth-killing Spanish flu immediately after the First World War (1918). And there were several other health pandemic that may not be as deadly as the two we have mentioned here. But based on encyclopedia accounts on the lives of sages like Nostradamus, the pandemic appears to be happening every one hundred years.

The likelihood therefore is that no one seemed to care about history. Had anyone from the government taken interest in history he or she could not have missed out on the deaths of millions of people not brought about by war but by diseases that hit when everyone was not expecting.

Hence, it is apparent that our government never had thought of adopting a “culture of preparedness” for health emergencies as it had for calamities like typhoons, floods, earthquakes, or even tsunamis.

Clearly our government did not anticipate the onset of the CoViD 19. And quite reasonably because if countries, not just the Philippines but the rest of the world including the two most powerful economically and militarily, were caught flat-footed when CoViD 19 “crash-landed,” how much more for our country wanting in resources and hampered continuously by political divides?  

And how about our own Davao City; how far has the LGU gone in crafting a disaster preparedness and response plan that integrates a component on preparing for a massive health emergency as the prevailing CoViD 19? We surmise that the city has a disaster preparedness and response management plan already in place. But we are certain it does not include preparedness methodologies in health emergencies so wide-spread, health debilitating and economically devastating as CoViD 19.   

We are hoping that after the CoViD 19 pandemic shall have slowed down, or may be arrested with a vaccine, the mayor shall immediately order a comprehensive review and revision of the disaster preparedness plan to include lessons learned from the CoViD 19 health pandemic in its framework.

One very experienced and credible resource person the city can invite during the review is Dr. Sonny Jegillos of the United Nations Disaster Preparedness Unit, and of the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand. He is an authority on disaster preparedness, health calamities included.

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