Philippines battens down the hatches for Mangkhut

Officials emphasized the need for evacuation in coastal areas as they warned that Mangkhut may generate a storm surge of up to six meters high. (Reuters)
Updated 14 September 2018

Philippines battens down the hatches for Mangkhut

  • Mangkhut is expected to make landfall over the northern island of Luzon early on Saturday
  • The typhoon is expected to cause widespread damage to infrastructure and agriculture

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte led a conference on Thursday to ensure that the country is prepared for the powerful typhoon heading toward it.

Authorities started the evacuation of thousands of residents in coastal and landslide-prone areas ahead of the arrival of typhoon Mangkhut (local name Ompong), described as the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines so far this year.

The state weather bureau said Mangkhut, which is expected to make landfall over Cagayan-Isabela province early on Saturday, has a diameter of 900 km, can reach peak intensity of around 220 kph maximum sustained winds and gusts of up to 270 kph. 

At the command conference the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that an estimated 4.3 million individuals are exposed within the 250 km radius of the storm. 

Many of these people will probably be evacuated, NDRRMC Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad said, noting that 800,000 of the population are living in poverty. Within this corridor, some 47,000 houses are made of light materials.

Officials emphasized the need for evacuation in coastal areas as they warned that Mangkhut may generate a storm surge of up to 6 meters high. Fishermen and those with small sea craft were also advised not to venture to sea. 

The NDRRMC said that rapid deployment teams are on standby for possible rescue operations, while local government units (LGUs) are enjoined to prepare their own contingency plans. 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has put eight teams on alert. The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also placed some of their personnel and vessels on standby for deployment to conduct sea search and rescue operation if needed.

In the same conference, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol reported the projected effect of the typhoon on agriculture. 

According to Piñol, some 1,220,000 hectares of rice and corn alone will be affected by, which may result to losses in rice amounting to about P3.6 billion ($66.7 million). In worst case scenario, the losses in rice may reach up to P7.9 billion.

Estimated damage in corn is P2.7 billion, and in worst case scenario P3 billion.

In spite of this, Piñol assured Duterte there will still be a sufficient supply of rice. He added they have likewise advised farmers to harvest crops that are ready. The agriculture department will also position hauling trucks for animal evacuation.

Meanwhile, the president stressed the need for constant communication between government agencies and to prepare for any eventuality in times of crisis. “In a crisis you have to reckon with the Murphy’s Law. We have estimates and we have the projections, the reckonings and all but it ain’t there until it is there,” Duterte said.

He then suggested the use of one dedicated radio channel for all government agencies, including the defense department, and another for the military and police for central communications, as he pointed out that cellular networks can breakdown during disasters.


‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.