Disaster risks

But getting to grips with the probability of one getting maimed or killed during a disaster might help us make better decisions about our own lives and also provide hints about how we can avoid future disasters.

What were the chances severe tropical storm "Paeng" (International name: Nalgae) could have killed you?

If you intuitively answered with slim or no chance at all, well, lucky you!

Without having known it, you just quickly calculated your personal risks against natural disasters using what scientists call the micromort measure.

In all probability, you calculated — using considerations such as where you live and comfortable circumstances – you have lower risks against natural disasters than others.

You're confident your micromort measure is low.

But don't be too confident. You may have had just a close call. One can never tell with Nature.

In fact, if there's anything significant about "Paeng," it is its unprecedented torrential rains inundating many parts of the country and triggering floods and landslides in places not prone to either.

In short, with "Paeng" the risks from natural disasters have gone a notch higher.

Now, thinking about disasters in terms of personal risk might seem callous.

But getting to grips with the probability of one getting maimed or killed during a disaster might help us make better decisions about our own lives and also provide hints about how we can avoid future disasters.

Anyway, curious about what a micromort is?

According to Wired magazine "in 1980, a Stanford engineering professor named Ronald Howard came up with a simple way to convey this difference in risk: He coined a unit of measurement called the micromort."

Now, each micromort equals a one-in-a-million chance of death. Scuba diving, for example, is pretty risky at five micromorts per trip, but nowhere near as dangerous as base jumping, which will net you 430 micromorts per jump.

As far as I can tell, no Filipino scientist calculated as yet micromort estimates of a Filipino dead from typhoons, floods, earthquakes, landslides, or any other form of natural disaster.

Probably it's because no one has taken pains gathering all the data on how many Filipinos died from or were maimed by natural disasters since records were kept.

But if someone did, there's the possibility the Filipino's micromort estimates arising from natural disasters will be higher than expected.

How so? Because this country tops this year's list of global disaster risk hotspots. This year's World Risk Index 2022 of 193 countries worldwide ranked the country first, logging an index score of 46.82.

India and Indonesia ranked second and third, followed by Colombia and Mexico.

The index measures a country's risk of natural hazards by scoring a country's exposure, vulnerability, susceptibility, lack of coping capacities, and lack of adaptive capacities to disasters.

Much can be said about why the country posted high scores, but I will limit myself to the lack of our adaptive capacities.

With "Paeng", nothing illustrates the issue more than when the storm cut a swath of destruction in 10 Maguindanao Norte towns.

Bangsamoro Interior and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo told a news website that officials had in fact warned their people on 26 October about "Paeng" but only expected the "usual flood" and not rampaging floodwaters which caused deadly landslides.

They "didn't expect flash floods from the mountain because we were not in the direct path" of the tropical cyclone, Sinarimbo said.

The oversight caused the deadly tragedy.

Sinarimbo's predicament about getting surprised by the turn of events is explainable, however.

Dr. Mahar Lagmay, Executive Director of the UP Resilience Institute, says being caught by surprise is inevitable since most communities still use roadmaps for preventing disasters based only on historical records.

Lagmay insists being proactive against disasters also means being adaptive to the present using the latest scientific techniques.

He advises disaster plans "for every community — all 1,600 to 1,700 cities and municipalities of the country — should use scenarios of floods, landslides, storm surges, which reflect those with the biggest floods, those with the number of landslides."

"If we don't use all those, we will still be surprised," Lagmay says.

Email: nevqjr@yahoo.com.ph

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