Philippines raises alert as super typhoon hurtles closer

A worker anchors the roof of a fuel station to a mixer truck as Super Typhoon Mangkhut approaches the city of Tuguegarao, Cagayan province, north of Manila. (AFP)
Updated 15 September 2018

Philippines raises alert as super typhoon hurtles closer

  • By Friday evening, strong winds had already downed trees in Tuguegarao, a city in the north of Luzon, where almost all businesses had been shuttered
  • At least four million people are directly in Mangkhut’s path, which is predicted to move on to China’s heavily populated southern coast

MANILA: Thousands of people have fled from the path of Typhoon Mangkhut (local name Ompong) which picked up strength as it barreled toward the Philippines’ Cagayan region on Friday.
While the authorities said there is slim chance of Mangkhut becoming a super typhoon, it but warned “it is still a powerful and destructive typhoon.”
With maximum sustained winds of 205 kph near the center and gusts of up to 255 kph, Mangkhut further accelerated hours before it was expected to land in the Cagayan-Isabela area early on Saturday.
The authorities placed Cagayan and Isabela provinces under storm signal No. 4, while signal No. 3 was also raised in other parts of northern Luzon. Signal No. 4 means the area will experience winds of 171 kph to 220 kph, which can bring heavy damage to structures and agriculture, lift cars off the ground, uproot trees, and take the roof of a house, an official explained.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council spokesperson Edgar Posadas said at least 2,298 families in regions affected by the storm have voluntarily evacuated since Thursday.
More residents are expected to move to safety as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) called on governors, mayors and village heads in four regions in the north to immediately evacuate all residents living in landslide and flood prone areas.
Posadas said an estimated 5.2 million people are in the path of Mangkhut, with 983,100 considered to be below poverty line or most vulnerable to the effects of the typhoon.
The DILG urged local chief executives as heads of their Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (LDRRMCs) not to delay in issuing action plans to evacuate vulnerable residents.
“Times like this are when public services have to be most accountable, responsive and far-sighted,” said DILG spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya.
Officials have repeatedly warned that storm surges of up to six meters are likely in the coastal areas of Cagayan, Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte, as well as Ilocos Sur when the eye of Ompong is over Batanes.
“Every minute counts. Immediate evacuation should be to areas that are more than 10 meters above sea level, regardless of distance from the coastline,” Malaya advised.
Residents along riverbanks and landslide prone areas were also encouraged to evacuate their homes.
And with its huge diameter of 900km, officials said that many areas not directly affected by the storm can still experience heavy rains and strong winds.
“For those in Metro Manila, prepare for moderate to heavy rains due to Habagat (the summer monsoon) intensified by Ompong. Flooding is expected in the usual low-lying areas,” said Posadas.
Gusty winds with occasional moderate to heavy rains are expected over Visayas, while scattered light to moderate to at times heavy rains over Palawan, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao and CARAGA.
“Residents in these areas, especially those living near river channels, in low-lying areas and in mountainous areas, are advised to take appropriate action against possible flooding and landslides, coordinate with local disaster risk reduction and management offices, and to continue monitoring for updates,” PAGASA advised.
On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte deployed some cabinet secretaries to areas that will most likely be hit by the typhoon to monitor the situations on the ground. “I cannot be everywhere and anywhere,” he said.
When asked by reporters if the government is willing to seek assistance from the international community, Duterte said: “It would depend on the severity of the crisis.”
“If it flattens everything, maybe we need to have some help. And if there are countries who are well-meaning... But it’s too early to speculate,” he added.
Mangkhut is expected move on from the Philippines on Sunday.

India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

Updated 23 September 2018

India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

  •  “Modicare” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to half a billion people
  • The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a mega health care scheme, touted as the world’s biggest public health scheme, on Sunday in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 

The National Health Protection Scheme, popularly known as “Modicare,” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to 100 million families or 500 million people, accounting for around 41 percent of people who fall below the poverty line.

 “The aim is to provide medical care to the people standing at the very margin of society. It has been a dream to provide health care to the needy and that dream is coming true today,” Modi said in a speech after inaugurating the scheme.

 “This is the first time in the world that a health care program is being launched where an individual will have an insurance cover of 5 lakh rupees ($7,000).”

The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India.

The intervention is meant to take the burden off the government hospitals and bring the expensive private hospitals within the reach of poor people.

For Ganesh Yadav, a daily wage earner, the “Ayushman Bharat Yojna,” as the program is officially called, is “a good move by the government if it really works.

 “Last year I spent more than 50,000 rupees ($720) in getting a kidney stone removed in a private hospital and I am still struggling to pay back the debt that I incurred. If the Modicare really works then poor people like me will not have to worry about the expenses in health care,” said Yadav, who lives in Noida, a satellite town of Delhi.

But one doctor raises doubts about the success of the program.

“An earlier health scheme also had the provision for insurance cover but the out-of-cost expenses of the poor people could not come down. There is a lack of clarity on this issue in the new scheme as well,” says Dr. Shakil, a cardiologist based in Patna, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
Talking to Arab News, he asks: “How will you identify the real beneficiaries? Besides, the scheme will not build public health infrastructure but give benefit to the private players, which I think is the real drawback of this policy.
“The government is in a hurry to launch the scheme and not many preparations have gone into it before inaugurating it.”

Economist Venkat Narayana questions the budgetary provisions for the scheme. “Under the scheme 60 percent of expenses would be borne by the central government and 40 percent by the state government. But the poorer states cannot afford the huge sums involved in the expenditure,” says Narayana, who also runs NGOs for poor people in Warangal district in the South Indian state of Telangana.

“My experience suggests that such a program does not address the real health care needs of the people living in villages and smaller cities. The money that the government plans to spend on insurance can be spent in expanding and enriching the medical infrastructure across the country.”

But Nirala, a political activist associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, feels that “this is a visionary intervention in the health care system of the country.

“Modi has tried to address the gap that exists in medical system of the country by bringing private hospitals within the reach of the poor masses,” he told Arab News.

Political analyst Pawan Pratyay, however, feels that Prime Minister Modi "has played a big political gamble in the election year by launching this attractive looking and sounding health care policy.

“The government has been cutting the health budget year after year. By bringing this pro-poor scheme Modi wants to change the pro-rich image that he has acquired over the years and attract the voters from the economically marginalized demography.”