By Andy McElroy
Geneva – The prompt evacuation of 1,000 people from a tiny island that had all 500 houses destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan saved the entire population according to a local leader who has been a long-time champion for disaster risk reduction.
The former Mayor of San Francisco, Cebu Province, Alfredo Arquillano, said years of work to strengthen community preparedness and reduce disaster risk prevented a catastrophe for the residents of Tulang Diyot. San Francisco is officially recognized as a role model by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in a highly hazard-prone part of the world.
“The day before, when it was clear how bad the typhoon would be, we decided to evacuate all 1,000 people. Because we’ve done so much work on disaster risk everyone fully understood the need to move to safety,” Mr. Arquillano said. He is still referred to locally as Mayor Al.
“My goodness, it was a good decision; it’s fair to say it saved everyone’s life. There is not one house left standing on the island, everything was wiped out.
“It just shows that preparedness pays. We have been working for years on early warnings, evacuations. The awareness level of the community was so high that it went well. We have worked hard to localize the international agreement on disaster risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Acton.”
Tulang Diyot is about 1.5km long and 500 metres across at its widest and lies about 1km off San Francisco island, part of the Camotes Islands which are sandwiched between the larger neighbouring islands of Leyte to the east and Cebu to the west.
Mr. Arquillano who is a Champion of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Making Cities Resilient Campaign, said it was important now to work towards reducing future disaster risk.
“We’re already talking with the islanders that they should relocate to the main island (of San Francisco). They shouldn’t go back. While most people understand the risk because Tulang Diyot is so low-lying it is very hard for them not to return as this is their home.
“It will be a challenge to try to relocate them somewhere safe and where they can rebuild their livelihoods as fishermen or farmers.”
Under his leadership San Francisco won the UN’s Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2011 for its community work based on what is known as the ‘Purok system’, an indigenous method of self organization within villages.
As part of the ‘Capital Build Up’ programme, the community deposits agreed amounts as initial capital for post-disaster assistance.
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