EVERYONE was literally shook by the magnitude 6.9 earthquake last February 6 near Negros Island. It killed over 70 people in the Visayas and recent news reports say that even more are still buried by landslides. Panic ensued in some coastal areas in Cebu and Negros as tsunami warnings were reported. In quake struck areas, people were at a loss during the tremor and its aftershocks. The infrastructure damage was extensive amounting to around 270 million pesos with critical bridges and roads affected. We can see that despite our being an earthquake prone country, lying right within the Pacific Ring of Fire, we are still ill-prepared with regard to seismic disasters.
Our continuing vulnerability is very much apparent with the series of disasters that have hit our country. The Philippines is always facing different ever-present hazards: seismic in nature, typhoon borne, tsunamis. These hazards are increasing due to global warming. Yet disasters are not just about the presence of hazards. Disaster risks can also be reduced by mitigating these hazards. For example, one can strengthen buildings to withstand seismic hazards.
At the end of the day, it is how we reduce the basic vulnerability of our people that is due to widespread poverty. Disaster risk is magnified by the lack of jobs, low wages, landlessness in areas that are hit by these hazards. The ability of communities to respond, cope or recover easily from disasters depend on these economic factors.
The Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) honestly admitted that the fault lines have not yet been completely studied in the area due to lack of geologists in the bureau. Deputy Director Bart Bautista said that they were aware of the existence of fault lines in Negros but their information was just preliminary and “incomplete.” The Phivolcs has an overview map of the country’s active faults and trenches developed. Monitoring of the activity of these faults and trenches fall on their small cadre of experts.
Aside from earthquakes, Philvolcs still have to deal with the multitude of volcanic activity in the country and yet there are less than 10 volcanologists with a PhD degree. The same holds for other fields of geological specialization. We still have a long way to develop a lot of experts in the earth sciences.
The number of geologists working in the public sector is still small despite its popularity as a profession in the previous years. Counting only around to a hundred, the number of our geologists and earth scientists are still small to cope to deal with mapping the seismic activity in the country. The renumeration of these scientists pale in comparison with their private counterparts in and out of the country. But it is not just earthquakes and volcanos. We still have other risks such as landslides and other geological factors that would need geologists that will study them. The problem is that much like our weathermen, many are leaving the country despite our large need for their expertise.
Finding minerals, oil and energy would also need geologists that would look for these resources from our mountains to the ocean floor. These resources would be necessary for our industrial growth. However, the current export oriented nature of these industries siphon not only these mineral resources but a lot of our geologists as well.
This is the situation for science in general. Without clear support for the scientists to practice what they know for our country, and the remuneration and incentives to make them stay in the public sector, we will continue to face perennial shortage of personnel in the scientific and technological fields.
A bigger budget would definitely help, aside from purposely retooling the curriculum and training of scientists and engineers, to generate more R&D personnel. This budget is needed to build more infrastructure for training as well as money to maintain these. Currently, with the budget cuts in state colleges and universities, it is the maintenance and operating expenses that are slowly diminishing. How can we sustain the training of our experts if there are no funds given to buy their reagents and repair their machines?
Yet the surest way to increase the numbers of our experts is for the country to engage in building our own national industries. This local demand will drive up the numbers due to the need that will come from these industries. We need our experts for many reasons. Our preparedness for and understanding of geohazards are only one of them. However, given the current direction of our government to follow neoliberal globalization hook, line and sinker, we see no clear drive for national industrialization in this administration. We truly need an earthshaking turn around of development policy to reverse brain drain.