Philippines braces for ‘super typhoon,’ aims for zero casualty

A weather forecaster illustrates the path of typhoon Mangkhut, locally named ‘Typhoon Ompong,’ as it approaches the Philippines on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 13 September 2018

Philippines braces for ‘super typhoon,’ aims for zero casualty

  • Weather forecasters warned of very strong winds and storm surges along coastal areas by Friday
  • Up to 43.3 million people could be affected by the storm in the Philippines and southern China

MANILA: Bracing for the impact of powerful typhoon “Mangkhut” (local name “Ompong“), Philippine officials scrambled to make all necessary preparations as they aimed for “zero casualty.”

Currently packing sustained winds of 205 kph and gustiness of up to 255 kph, Mangkhut has already entered the Philippines area of responsibility on Wednesday afternoon. It is described as the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) earlier said Mangkhut, now with a diameter of 900 km, is expected to reach a peak intensity of around 220 kph maximum sustained winds and gusts of up to 270 kph. 

According to the state weather bureau, cyclones with wind reaching more than 220 kph are categorized as super typhoon. As of reporting time, it has yet to upgrade Mangkhut’s status.

In view of the possible effects of Mangkhut, concerned government agencies held a pre-disaster risk assessment meeting at Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo to discuss the country’s preparations on the approach of the cyclone. 

During the meeting, PAGASA said tropical cyclone warning signal No. 1 may be raised over Eastern Luzon as early as Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. Heavy rains and strong winds may be experienced over Northern Luzon and parts of Central and Southern Luzon. Surrounding seas are expected to have rough to very rough conditions. Metro Manila may be issued with Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal 1 between Sept. 14 and 15.

As Mangkhut approached the Cagayan-Batanes area, authorities warned that very strong strong winds, storm surges along coastal areas and heavy-to-intense rain is expected in Cagayan and Isabela by Friday and all over northern Luzon by Saturday.

With that, residents along the coastal areas in affected provinces were alerted against a possible storm surge. Likewise, people living in flood and landslide-prone areas were advised to undertake necessary preparations as early as possible.

“Families are expected to heed the call of local government units on pre-emptive evacuation if the situation warrants,” the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.

The NDRRMC Operations Center was likewise placed on red alert and the Response Cluster has been activated. The NDRRMC is also closely monitoring actions and preparations on the threats of the typhoon in close coordination with its regional offices. 

This is to ensure the orchestrated response of the government to address the safety and welfare of communities likely to be affected.

The Department of Interior and Local Government, on the other hand, has activated its reporting systems to closely monitor the preparations of local government units (LGUs) concerned, particularly the implementation of preemptive evacuation. 

Officer-In-Charge Eduardo M. Año has ordered mayors to be present in their respective localities to ensure immediate government response when the typhoon hits the country.

Año warned that those who fail to show up when the Mangkhut rakes through the country will be sanctioned. This was stressed as the government is aiming for zero casualty during the typhoon.

“We have been forewarned as early as last week that Mangkhut is no ordinary typhoon and is similar to Yolanda. Let us brace our communities and urge our people to also make the necessary preparations for their families ... Let’s aim for zero casualty,” said Año. Yolanda (international name Haiyan) was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded. It struck the country in 2013 and left a swath of destruction, with more than 6,000 people dead.

Año said LGUs must stand by equipment and deploy teams for security, medical, clearing, evacuation, relief distribution, and communication needs. They should be able to send rescue and medical teams to highly vulnerable areas during and after the disaster, and must also secure power, water supply and communications, patrol areas and stand by for clearing operations.

Meanwhile, the NDRRMC logistics cluster led by the Office of Civil Defense has ensured that land, air, and sea assets are in place to immediately transport additional teams and supplies to stricken areas if necessary. 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command had also alerted all its ground forces to be on standby and are now in position to perform humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations with their military resources such as helicopters and navy vessels which are ready for use if the need arises.

Quick-response teams have been deployed in the province of Batanes and have established alternative communication devices to ensure that communication lines will remain open during the onslaught of the typhoon. 

Additional quick-response teams and health emergency response teams are on standby for immediate deployment in affected areas.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development has ensured the prepositioning of food and non-food items on the ground, and is preparing for possible augmentation of relief supplies to affected communities. Health teams, medicines and medical supplies have also been pre-positioned for immediate access of those in need. 


Car boom brings gridlock misery to ‘green and happy’ Bhutan

Updated 32 min 39 sec ago

Car boom brings gridlock misery to ‘green and happy’ Bhutan

  • Bhutan has seen a more than five-fold increase in cars, buses and trucks on its roads in the past two decades
  • Congestion and lack of parking now makes driving stressful in the tiny Himalayan kingdom where there are no traffic light

THUMPHU: Famed for valuing Gross National Happiness over economic growth, Bhutan is a poster child for sustainable development.
But booming car sales may impact efforts to preserve its rare status as a carbon negative country — and an increase in traffic is testing the good humor of its citizens.
Bhutan has seen a more than five-fold increase in cars, buses and trucks on its roads in the past two decades, according to transport authority director general Pemba Wangchuk with capital Thimphu hardest hit by the influx of vehicles.
Phuntsho Wangdi, a media consultant, says the congestion and lack of parking now makes driving stressful in the tiny Himalayan kingdom where there are no traffic lights.
“I wish there were fewer cars. It wasn’t like this before,” he adds of life in Thimpu, which is home to half the cars in the country.
The nation’s economy has grown 7.5 percent each year in the past decade, according to the World Bank. Officials estimate there is now one car for every seven people in Bhutan, which has a total population of 750,000.
But the nation’s narrow country lanes and outdated city roads can barely cope. A lack of infrastructure, along with poor driving etiquette — some simply leave their cars parked in the middle of the road — compounds the problem.
“Every year the number of cars and the number of people are increasing, and the roads have remained the same, and it’s a problem for us,” Lhendup, a taxi driver, tells AFP.
Morning rush hour journeys that once took five minutes now take more than half an hour.
This may seem a small figure compared to the hours of gridlock faced by commuters in Manila, Jakarta, and Bangkok, but it is a step-change for the Bhutanese who say the situation has rapidly deteriorated in the past year.
“Its chaotic. I eat my breakfast in the car now to save time,” says Kuenzang Choden, who drops her four-year-old daughter at school every day before heading to work.
The traffic jams are a sign of the wider economic changes the nation is facing. Bhutan is renowned for prioritizing Gross National Happiness over GDP, and has captured tourists’ imagination as a tranquil, idyllic land, but there are signs of malcontent.
According to the World Bank’s 2018 report, the youth unemployment rate is high, as is rural to urban migration, which puts a strain on the resources of towns and cities. And despite it’s reputation as a place where well-being is prioritized — it ranked 95th out of 156 countries in the 2019 UN World Happiness Report.
The proliferation of the Internet and smartphones are fueling modern desires, while dealers are filling their showrooms with new brands and models from Japan and South Korea to lure buyers.
And while taxes have increased and restrictions put on vehicle loans, car buyers are not discouraged.
Local financial institutions gave 3.2 billion ngultrum ($46 million) in car loans in 2015, but by last year the amount had reached 6.7 billion ngultrum ($96 million).
The figures please local businessmen but worry environmentalists keen to ensure Bhutan remains one of the world’s greenest countries.
Environmental activist Yeshey Dorji explains: “As a nation that prides itself on being a carbon-negative country, the increase in the number of fossil fuel vehicles speaks poorly of our leadership position in environmental conservation.”
Bhutan and Suriname, both with lush forests, are the only two countries to claim they are carbon negative, absorbing more carbon pollution than they give off.
Methane from cows, the burning of crops and other farm activities used to be Bhutan’s main source of greenhouse gases. But that has changed in recent years to industry and cars.
Bhutan’s constitution dictates that at least 60 percent of the country must be forest and the figure is currently above 70 percent.
But Bhutan is now importing more in fossil fuels than it exports in hydropower to India — the country’s biggest revenue earner.
Public transport is poor, particularly in Thimpu, which is home to 100,000 people but barely 40 buses.
The capital’s mayor Kinlay Dorji plans to introduce bus-only lanes on city roads and wants to buy more buses.
“Its time for radical measures,” he says.
“We have to make public transport more attractive and discourage owning cars,” he adds, warning that unless action was taken Thimphu risked grinding to a standstill.
To ease congestion, the city is also constructing its first two multi-story car parks that will each take about 600 cars.
The National Environment Commission insists Bhutan is still carbon negative despite the traffic jams and vehicle boom, but wants to stop things worsening.
Commission secretary Dasho Sonam P. Wangdi explains: “We cannot stop people from buying cars, but we can introduce alternative, less polluting cars such as the hybrid and electric ones to reduce carbon footprint.”