Manila, Philippines

As yet another tropical storm has been battering parts of the Philippine island of Luzon over the past few days, leaving thousands displaced, the government has set up a Technical Working Group (TWG) with the aim of improving preparedness for natural disasters and manmade calamities, including conflict.

"This will be the national focal point for all natural disasters from now on," a senior disaster risk reduction official and executive director of the country's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre (NDRRMC), Benito Ramos, told IRIN.

Thousands of people are returning to their homes after Tropical Storm Meari resulted in extensive flooding in dozens of towns and cities on Luzon island, including Metro Manila, on 25-26 June.

Of the more than one million people affected, nearly 40,000 were still in 126 evacuation centers as of 27 June, the NDRRMC reported.

Comprised of the NDRRMC and the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), TWG's focus will be on typhoons, about 20 of which hit the country each year.

Most typhoons strike from June to December. In 2009, the country was hit by some big ones, including Ketsana, Parma and Mirinae. Scientists believe the storms have strengthened in recent years due to the effects of La Niña.


"The establishment of this group is a real breakthrough," said David Carden, head of office for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who will co-chair TWG with Ramos.

"It demonstrates yet again that the new administration of President Benigno Aquino is fully committed to addressing the country's disaster preparedness needs."

Earlier this month, NDRRMC announced the committee would include seven government member agencies, including the Office of Civil Defence, the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Interior and Local Development, as well the Philippine Armed Forces and the police.

The HCT and OCHA are comprised of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Oxfam, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the World Food Programme, and the International Organization for Migration.

"The committee will allow us to work in a more coordinated way with our international partners in better addressing the humanitarian needs of those affected," Ramos said.

The Philippines has already had six typhoons this year, with 15 more expected: Between July and September 7-10; and in October-November 3-6, the authorities say.

"This is more than usual," Carden noted.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Luzon, the largest and most economically important island, is particularly prone to typhoons, with an average of 3.7 typhoons a year, followed by Visayas (2.1), Bicol and Samar/Leyti (1.9), Palawan (1.1) and the northern part of Mindanao (0.6).

The TWG held its first meeting on 10 June, with a second meeting scheduled for 6 July, and plans to meet once a month. According to OCHA in Manila, TWG did not meet in connection with Meari.


- Provided by Integrated Regional Information Networks.


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