A Filipino scientist this week received top distinction from Europe’s premier geosciences bureau.
Dr. Alfredo Mahar Lagmay, who heads the government’s Project NOAH -- Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards -- was given the Plinius Medal by the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria for his “outstanding interdisciplinary natural-hazard research and natural-disaster engagement in the Philippines, particularly with respect to volcanic hazards, earthquakes, typhoons, landslides and floods.”
Lagmay holds a doctorate in geology and has devoted his career to the study of how science can help communities build resilience in the face of natural disasters.
He has published his work on various disasters hitting the Philippines from landslides, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and storm surges. The latest such study delved on how Daram, a small town in Samar, was able to survive deadly storm surges brought by typhoon Ruby last year.
Like any scientist, though, who prefers to work without the glare, Lagmay is quick to deflect the attention to the worthy projects he helped put together. For example, he said that the award was a testament that Project Noah is considered an example of best practice in disaster risk reduction and management.
In fact, during his trip to Vienna, he delivered a lecture on Project NOAH’s high-resolution hazards mapping feature.
The science, however, is but a part of the overall scheme to empower Filipinos, especially those living in vulnerable areas or belong to vulnerable sectors. Lagmay himself has been quoted as saying “no amount of science will work in disaster risk reduction if people to not embrace it.”
DRR is a mindset that prompts us to find out where we are most vulnerable and do things in a consistent and sustained manner to mitigate risks that have been identified. And when disasters do hit, a good plan will enable a community to rise better, faster. There would be little floundering and running around -- no surprises.
Lagmay says the mindset will lead people to take seriously the advisories and other information made available to them.
DRR is scientific, yes, but it as also administrative. There are things that have to be set up and done, not by scientists but by executives -- national and local. These include planning, organizing, and activating emergency systems in one cue, and after the disaster, responding to immediate effects as well as rebuilding and rehabilitating to a state better than the one prior to the tragedy.
Lagmay has certainly done much and helped many with his life work. Let’s hope that those in other aspects of DRR, specifically officials who claim they are in public service to, precisely, serve, take their roles as seriously and do as much with their own life work.