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Pinas to Paris

The most powerful storm to make landfall, in 2013. Two of the three most devastating typhoons since 2011, hitting storm-free Mindanao. A zero-casualty program with zero casualties since 2006. The INQUIRER tracks the potentially historic climate change conference in PARIS with three special reports about the consequences of global warming on climate-vulnerable PiliPINAS, and draws lessons on disaster risk reduction that can actually, urgently, save lives.

PHOTO: Typhoon Haiyan, by JMA/EUMETSAT.

When world leaders gather in Paris to begin the final stage of negotiations for a binding treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions, they will draw attention to one of the proven effects of climate change: extreme weather. Supertyphoon Haiyan, or Yolanda, is now global shorthand for the stronger, more destructive storms a warmer Pacific Ocean generates, even in non-El Nino years.

And yet, despite Yolanda’s high death toll, the Philippines also offers lessons in how to survive extreme weather. In particular, typhoon-prone Albay province is internationally famous for its zero-casualty program. No lives have been lost to natural calamities since 2006; if the tragedy of Reming and its mudslide deaths in 2006 is excepted, the zero record goes all the way back to 1995.

The province has mastered that difficult operation known as “preemptive evacuation”—residents living in danger zones are evacuated to safety even before the national weather bureau hoists storm signals over the province. The work of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (or Apsemo) is crucial; but equally impressive are the residents themselves, who initiate the evacuation when they know a storm is already heading their way.

“The residents of Albay, through continuous prodding, have made [preparedness] a part of their system. It is already inculcated in them that when there are anticipated calamities, they should all move,” Apsemo chief Cedric Daep said, during an visit to two towns in the danger zone earlier this year.

PHOTO: Typhoon Haiyan, by JMA/EUMETSAT.


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