Whatever happened to Project Noah?

Heavy rains poured and hit the Philippines hard these past few weeks and large parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces were flooded.  Seeing cities and towns submerged in water on Filipino television here brought back the sad memory of tropical storm “Ondoy.”

The water level at the Marikina River has gone down and is much lower after reaching the critical 20-meter mark over the weekend and residents from nearby areas wereevacuated.  The alert status though remains on first alarm in most cities and provinces.

I thought about Project Noah when I first saw the recent floods and people being brought to evacuation centers for their safety.

I first learned about Project Noahduring the administration of President Benigno C. Aquino III.  “Noah” the acronym stands for “Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazard. It wasthe primary disaster risk reduction and management programof the Philippines.

Noah was administered by the Department of Science and Technology (“DOST”) from 2012 to 2017.  From a recent research, I learned that it is now “managed” by the University of the Philippines.

When Ondoy in 2009 and Sendong in 2011 hit the Philippines causing untold devastation including the loss of many lives,it became very clear that the Philippines lacked a disaster prevention and mitigation system.  There was the urgent need for the government to create one and have a system in place.

Climate change is producing drastic changes to theEarth and the impact of these changes should not be taken lightly.  The conference on climate change in New Zealand a few years back also resulted in a resolution that the threat of climate change to island nations should not be ignored and should be taken seriously as these nations are more vulnerable to floods and changes in the water levels.

We now witness rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, heavy rainfall and devastating storms like the super-typhoon Yolanda in 2013.  Like other island nations, the Philippines is being hit hard by natural disasters these days.

Natural disasters will always hit the Philippines.  And I do not only talk about tropical storms and heavy rainfall here.  There will be earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, heat waves, flash floods, and forest fires.

The question is— How prepared is the Philippines when these natural disasters hit?

For sure, there is no such thing as 100% prepared.  But there should be something that the government should do to at least minimize or lessen the suffering and the loss when disaster comes.  I refer to the need for an entity like the “The Federal Emergency Management Agency” (“FEMA”) of the U.S.

Over a year ago, there was news that the Duterte administration was“shutting down” Project Noahfor lack of funds.  Then a few months later,news came about that the Office of President and the Presidential Communication Operations Office (“PCOO”) received a big chunk from the national budget.

What happened to first things first?  How can the present government minimize the importance of Project Noah?

A government cannot cite lack of funds as the reason in shelving projects and programs if such programs can protect the lives of millionsand their properties.

How can we expect people to be proactive and be prepared in disasters if the government does not even have a primary entity who will study, research, and make preparations on how to take care ofdisasters and manage the situation to limit the devastating effects of such disasters?

I understand and respect the many social media postings over the past few days about praying to God for the welfare and safety of those who were hit hard by the floods and the heavy rainfall.  I too did some praying and talking to my God.  But people should also ask and demand the government what is due them and I am not talking about relief goods and dole-outs here.  I am talking about the need for a disaster risk reduction and management agency that can better prepare people and other government agencies on how to respond to disasters and be of assistance to the people when the need comes.

The Philippine government should not only bring back a stronger and well-funded Project Noah.  This project should be institutionalized and the people in the government should make sure that its funding becomes a priority.

Jojo Liangco is an attorney with the Law Offices of Amancio M. Liangco Jr. in San Francisco, California.  His practice is in the areas of immigration, family law, personal injury, civil litigation, business law, bankruptcy, DUI cases, criminal defense and traffic court cases.  Please send your comments to Jojo Liangco, c/o Law Offices of Amancio “Jojo” Liangco, 605 Market Street, Suite 605, San Francisco, CA 94105 or you can call him (415) 974-5336.  You can also visit Jojo Liangco’s website at www.liangcolaw.com.