WILL this season of typhoons be a replay of tragic episodes of the past?

It is undeniable that until now, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa)—the agency responsible for flood and typhoon warnings and other astronomical and climatological information—still lacks high-end equipment needed in providing accurate weather forecasts for Filipinos who are gravely affected by the drastic effects of flooding and landslides.

In 2010, President Benigno Aquino III fired Prisco Nilo as administrator of Pagasa because of the agency’s lack of modern equipment and slow response to typhoons Ondoy and Basyang, which caused extreme havoc in the country. The President pledged to install a more capable leadership in Pagasa.

Apparently, the President is now eating his words. Three years hence, Pagasa forecasts remain off-kilter, if not downright inaccurate. Despite the acquisition of modern equipment like Doppler radars and automated rain gauges, its forecasting remains entrenched in the Jurassic age due to the insufficiency of facilities needed to accurately detect changes in the weather.

It is only in March this year when the 16th Doppler radar, a device that detects the location and motion of rainfall, was installed. And even then, the country would need more since other countries less prone to weather disturbances as the Philippines have as much as 100 fully-functioning Doppler radars.

According to a 2013 summary of budget allocations from BudgetNgBayan.com, a website regulated by the Department of Budget and Management, a P10 billion budget is allotted to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and this budget allocation is divided among several research councils, agencies and service institutions (like Pagasa) under the department.

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Beat the heat

In comparison with other departments, DOST receives a relatively lower budget. It is not even part of the Top 10 departments which received the highest budget allocations for 2013.

It is curious that the Philippine government prefers to allot huge funds to agencies and departments involved in road-widening and repair projects than to institutions like Pagasa that needs a higher budget to acquire modern facilities and equipment and fund researches on the country’s climate condition to lessen destructiveness of weather disturbances and other natural disasters—which are common scenarios played in televisions and photographs published on national broadsheets.

A tropical country like the Philippines is a common route of typhoons. Thus, the government should pour investments on science and technology, especially weather forecasting, by providing sufficient support to experts in the field and investing on high-end technology. Besides, it is the Filipino people who will benefit from this policy since different communities will be able to design their own disaster and risk preparedness plan. In this way, mortality and damage brought by calamities can be lessened, if not prevented.

And on the part of the Filipino people, it is our duty to become vigilant of government, its policies, programs and budget allocations, seeing to it that it delivers on key needs and contingencies, especially weather forecasting, by empowering agencies such as Pagasa, which continues to provide us with weather forecasts despite being hamstrung by limited technology and an incredibly shortsighted and incompetent government that is always a disaster in the making.

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