Negros Occidental is hardly a place you can call “sleepy”. Every once in a while, the province is roused by disasters.
This is because it is home to Mt. Kanlaon, one of the 22 active volcanoes in the country; six major rivers that may cause flooding in at least 17 areas during typhoons; the Negros Trench, an earthquake generator that poses a threat to 16 towns and cities; and sugar plantations where vehicular accidents and other man-made disasters may arise.
In 2001, 58 lives were snuffed out because of natural calamities such as typhoons, flash flooding and lightning. A total of 78,846 families were affected. The cost of agricultural damage was placed at P658 million and P108 million worth of infrastructure were destroyed.
But the provincial government and the people are no fatalists. It realized disaster preparedness is key for Negros Occidental to be socially and economically developed.
Disaster-management efforts were strengthened in 1996 and further enhanced in 2001 when a comprehensive program was introduced.
Dubbed “Amlig-Kabuhi”, Visayan for “saving lives”, the program aims to provide quicker and more organized response and mobilize a sustainable pool of trained and committed volunteers for rescue operations.
A Provincial Disaster Management Team (PDMT) was created in 2001 to serve as the secretariat of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council. The PDMT is a multi-agency body that manages both pre-disaster preparedness and post-disaster response and management. It also acts as the nerve center of 45 rescue groups with 4,750-strong trained volunteers and conducts a massive information campaign to raise Negrenses’ awareness on disaster preparedness and coordinate rescue efforts.
The province also has a Public Safety Academy, the first rescue-training center in the country. The academy sits on a 25-hectare public park and has two buildings donated by the privately run Amity Fire Brigade Volunteers. The provincial government is extending P2.5 million in assistance to improve its existing facilities.
With the system, proper equipment and facilities in place, response time for emergency calls is now guaranteed at 20 minutes or less to anywhere within the province’s 7,900-square kilometer area covering 19 towns and 12 cities.
“The right of every person to live is inherent. The provincial government, together with the private sector, ensures that this right is respected and protected,” says Governor Joseph Marañon.
True enough, the province has been recording lesser number of human casualties from disasters. From the same number of annual typhoons and flooding incidents, the number of victims has been decreasing from 58 in 2000, 38 in 2001, and 18 in 2002.
Governor Marañon says the program was able to reduce damage to property to P75 million in 2002 from P150 million in 2001.
Negros Occidental’s efforts to avert and minimize the impact of disasters translated to substantial savings from relief operations and rehabilitation of damages. These savings are reverted to the general fund for development programs such as rural electrification and street-lighting projects.
With Amlig-Kabuhi, the 2.5 million population of disaster-prone Negros Occidental can sleep well at night knowing that help will always be on the way.
This program is recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Programs in the 2003 Galing Pook Awards.