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
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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.


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 19 June 2019
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”