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SOS for Project Noah

Stronger storms and floods are coming our way. There is no uncertainty about this. Climate change is here and we have seen the deaths and devastation that it causes. In 2013, thousands were killed in the wake of the storm surge that accompanied “Yolanda.”  In 2012, Typhoon “Pablo” destroyed houses and livelihoods in Southern Mindanao. Typhoon “Ruby” did the same in 2014. And just this past week, we saw how rain alone caused such damage in many parts of Cagayan de Oro City. Fortunately, unlike in 2011 when “Sendong” brought flash floods to my home city and killed thousands, there were no casualties from last week’s floods. The reason: early warnings were given and vulnerable communities and residents were evacuated in a timely manner.

This culture of early warning and timely evacuation has saved many lives in the last five years. There is one reason for this: Project NOAH, the Department of Science and Technology’s response to the call of President Benigno S. Aquino III for a more accurate, integrated, and responsive disaster prevention and mitigation system, especially in high-risk areas throughout the Philippines.

Started in 2012, Project Noah was designed to harness technologies and management services for disaster risk reduction activities. It is a project led by the DoST through Pagasa, Phivolcs and the DoST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), in partnership with the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences and the UP College of Engineering. Its project director, Dr. Mahar Lagmay, is one of the most brilliant, imaginative and committed disaster scientists in the world. Indeed, Project Noah is the envy of many countries.

According to its website, Project Noah has the following components:

“Distribution of Hydro Meteorological Devices in hard-hit areas in the Philippines (Hydromet). A total of 600 automated rain gauges (ARG) and 400 water level monitoring stations (WLMS) will be installed along the country’s 18 major river basins (RBs) by December 2013 to provide a better picture of the country’s surface water in relation to flooding.

Disaster Risk Exposure Assessment for Mitigation— Light Detection and Ranging (DREAM-LIDAR) Project. The project, which is targeted to be completed by December 2013, aims to produce more accurate flood inundation and hazard maps in 3D for the country’s flood-prone and major river systems and watersheds.

Enhancing Geohazards Mapping through LIDAR. The project, which is targeted to be completed by December 2014, shall use LIDAR technology and computer-assisted analyses to identify exact areas prone to landslides.

Coastal Hazards and Storm Surge Assessment and Mitigation (CHASSAM).  CHASSAM, which is targeted to be completed by December 2014, will generate wave surge, wave refraction, and coastal circulation models to understand and recommend solutions for coastal erosion.

Flood Information Network (FloodNET) Project. Targeted to be completed by December 2013 is a flood center that will provide timely and accurate information for flood early warning systems. The FloodNET  Project will come up with computer models for the critical RBs, automate the process of data gathering, modeling and information output, and release flood forecasts.

Local Development of Doppler Radar Systems (LaDDeRS). LaDDeRS seeks to develop local capacity to design, fabricate, and operate sub-systems of Doppler radars for remotely sensing the dynamic parameters of sea surface such as wave, wind field, and surface current velocity.

Landslide Sensors Development Project. This project is a low-cost, locally developed, sensor-based early monitoring and warning system for landslides, slope failures, and debris flow. As of May 2012, ten sensors have been installed in San Francisco, Surigao del Norte; Tago, Surigao del Sur; Tublay, Bugias, and Bokod in Benguet; Guihulngan City, Negros Occidental; St. Bernard, Southern Leyte;  and Tubungan, Iloilo. Additional sensors are expected to be deployed to not less than 50 sites by 2013.

Weather Hazard Information Project (WHIP). WHIP involves the utilization of platforms such as television (DOSTv) and a web portal (http://noah.dost.gov.ph),  which display real-time satellite, Doppler radar, ARG, and WLMS data to empower LGUs and communities to prepare against extreme natural hazards. This is complemented by activities, such as: a) conducting of IEC (Information, Education, and Communication) activities; and b) the processing and packaging of relevant and up-to-date information for public use.”

These components are essential in the world of changing climate and immense disaster risks. If anything, what is clear is that Project Noah should not be just an ordinary project. It should in fact be institutionalized, made permanent, with an assured budget.

Alas, it looks like this is not the future of Project Noah. According to news reports, due to “lack of funds” for the program, it will be abandoned. Lagmay confirmed this sad news to Rappler over the weekend, saying the program will only run until Feb. 28 since there are no more funds for it.

According to Lagmay, they have been informed that the Project’s request for extension would not be approved.

Lagmay made sure that the Duterte administration was not to be solely blamed for this. In the Rappler interview, he “clarified this began under the Aquino administration, when mid-level officials of the DoST, who are still in government, told them there were no funds for the project.” “These officials are still with the government until now,” Lagmay is quoted.

I do not know why the DoST would not support Project Noah. Its current Secretary, Fortunato De la Peña, is a good scientist and an excellent pubic servant. I cannot imagine him not being supportive of Project Noah. Likewise, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno understands disasters very well. I cannot think of any reason why he would withhold budgetary support for Project Noah.

It would be good to know what the replacement would be for Project Noah, if there are any. Otherwise, we are going into the future blind—and only death and devastation will be the result of that.

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Topics: Tony La Viña , Project Noah , Climate change , storms and floods
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