Teachers and students participate in an earthquake drill in Parañaque City, March 24, 2023. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT should ramp up investments in disaster response programs as well as the healthcare system to ensure their readiness in the event of a catastrophic earthquake along the West Valley Fault in Metro Manila, the World Bank said.

“A Metro Manila risk assessment estimated that a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the West Valley Fault (a probable maximum scenario, so-called ‘The Big One’), could result in an estimated 48,000 fatalities and $48 billion in economic losses,” according to a World Bank blog.

“It also poses a severe threat to urban mobility in the metropolitan area and the provision of key public services, including the health system, as well as lifeline infrastructure like water and energy supply.”

The World Bank said the West Valley Fault line “poses the most serious threat” out of multiple earthquake generators in Metro Manila.

The West Valley Fault traverses the cities of Taguig, Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Quezon City, Pasig, Makati and Marikina, as well as the provinces of Rizal, Laguna, Cavite and Bulacan.

The fault moves every 200 to 400 years, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Its last recorded movement was in 1658 or 365 years ago.

“Targeting critical road segments and neighborhoods for emergency preparedness and response investments can accelerate recovery times and strengthen people’s access to essential public services during a disaster and in its immediate aftermath,” it said.

The World Bank said the government should ensure hospitals and the healthcare system could withstand a major earthquake and are accessible once transport infrastructure is affected.

“Operational facilities are necessary for government continuity plans and for meeting surge demand caused by an earthquake, while simultaneously continuing to provide the baseline services needed by everyday patients and people with preexisting health conditions,” it said.

It found that the 5,300 road segments that cross the West Valley Fault would “incur significant damage and may become impassable” in the event of an earthquake.

“As a result, people may not be able to access critical public services and jobs, while the government may be prevented from effectively responding to the emergency,” it added.

Over 7,000 kilometers of roads or about 34% of Metro Manila’s road network could also be affected by liquefaction, which could deform the ground and obstruct roads.

“In several locations affected by liquefaction, access times could be 10 times longer, thus effectively cutting people off. The results also suggest that in the post-earthquake scenario, hospital access by ambulance would now exceed one hour for almost 10% of the population of Metro Manila (or 1.1 million people) compared with 0.7% in the baseline scenario,” it added.

In 2021, the World Bank approved a $300-million loan for the Philippines’ Seismic Risk Reduction and Resilience project, which aims to boost disaster preparedness in Metro Manila.

The project involves retrofitting public buildings to make them more resilient against disasters, and improving the preparedness and response capacity of key government agencies. It would also help boost the capacity of the Department of Public Works and Highways to respond to emergencies and provide essential support after a disaster.

Under the project, 425 public buildings including health facilities and schools would be upgraded. The project also improves emergency preparedness, crisis communication and information management.

“Disasters like the earthquake on April 22, 2019, have underscored the urgent need to prepare Metro Manila for earthquakes with epicenters closer to the city. Through this project, the Philippine government is doing just that, by actively increasing the resilience and safety of the population and proactively strengthening its disaster preparedness,” it added.

At that time, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit Central Luzon, which left 18 dead, three missing and about 250 injured. It caused an estimated P505.92 million in damage to schools, roads and bridges. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson