EU cites Philippines' improved disaster preparedness

Brussels (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Despite the high death toll of Typhoon "Pablo," the European Union's coordinating body for humanitarian aid lauded the Philippines' preparedness for the latest killer storm to hit the country.

Officials of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) on Friday cited an improvement in the government's response, noting that it "saved a lot of lives," compared to what was seen a year ago when Tropical Storm "Sendong" devastated parts of Mindanao, also days before Christmas.

ECHO officials in the Belgian capital, host city of EU institutions, also said a team from its Bangkok office flew to Davao on Friday to assess how it can help in the emergency relief effort. The team is expected to make a report to Brussels on Sunday.

"When 'Bopha' [the typhoon's international name] or Pablo hit, I think the government was more prepared than it had been in the past," said Jenny Correia Nunes, ECHO's team leader for Southeast Asia.

Nunes was referring mainly to the preemptive evacuation of residents in areas that were in Pablo's path.

Dominique Gryn, ECHO's desk officer for the Philippines, added: "Today the technology is so sophisticated that we can actually predict very precisely when and where the landfall will hit. And in the Philippines we've seen that the preparations the government made in anticipation of the storm in Mindanao were extraordinary. And that saved a lot of lives in itself."

"And we have a clear comparison that we can draw with last year's 'Washi' [international name of Sendong] which hit very similar areas and the devastation caused was much larger. Of course we're still seeing what the impact of Bopha is. We have to be careful not to underestimate the damage. But still, we can already say that the disaster awareness and preparedness had saved a lot of lives," she added.

Asked how she could still make this positive assessment despite Pablo's death toll climbing to over 300 and with about an equal number of people still missing as of Friday, Gryn explained:

"Yes, the death toll is rising, nobody is countering that. What we're only saying now is that the government has taken certain measures that probably saved a lot of lives. We know this because a year ago the death toll was a lot higher."

The United Nations had made a similar observation.

Gryn also said ECHO's partner nongovernmental organisations in the region had also "prepositioned" themselves before the storm made landfall in the areas expected to be hit, and had begun assessing where the EU could help.

She said the EU's assistance could fill "gaps" in the government-led relief effort.

The ECHO officials spoke in a briefing with Southeast Asian reporters who were in the Belgian capital on a EU-hosted press tour.

The EU poured in some 7.6 million euros to assist storm- or flood-affected people in the Philippines in 2011. This year, it released 700,000 euros for communities affected by the floods that hit Luzon in August.

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