PHILIPPINES: Geo-hazard maps go public

MANILA, 31 January 2012 (IRIN) - The Philippine government has made geo-hazard maps, which outline areas prone to natural disasters, publicly available in a bid to reduce vulnerability at community level.

The geo-hazard map developed by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (MGB-DENR) uses colour to classify areas as either low, moderately or highly susceptible to floods, flash floods and landslides. Some areas are marked as being prone to riverbank erosion. These codes are superimposed on the topographic map of the Philippines.

"Every square unit of the country was covered. We identified disaster-prone areas with the help of base maps, satellite imagery and fieldwork. Historical accounts [of past disasters] were also taken into consideration," MGB director Leo Jasareno told IRIN.

Tips on handling emergencies in the event of natural disasters are also part of the information on the geo-hazard map.

Previously, such mapping was distributed to local government units and used primarily for land-use planning and zoning guidelines.

However, recent natural disasters, including tropical storm Washi, have prompted the MGB to find ways to make the geo-hazard maps available to the public.

"By making these geo-hazard maps available to anyone for free, we hope to give every community or individual access to information needed for assessing flooding and landslide risks," said Jasareno.

Working around limitations

At present, the MGB's website is only able to support a low-resolution version of the 700 maps.

The MGB has entered into a partnership with the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), an NGO that promotes environmental sustainability and social justice, to make high-resolution versions of the geo-hazard maps easier to search and download.

"We are working on ways to optimize usage, search and retrieval of these maps on our website. Adding a search optimization so that a user will not have to search through voluminous files just to find his area, is one such improvement," Sylvia Miclat, ESSC executive director, said.

The high-resolution version of the geo-hazard maps is expected to be available for downloading soon.

Other improvements

The geo-hazard map is just the first in a number of government initiatives to enhance and promote disaster preparedness in this nation of more than 100 million.

The MGB is looking at making more detailed geo-hazard maps. At present, the maps are on a scale of 1:50,000 (1cm= 500m). Village boundaries are not clearly indicated and users can only approximate their area. The MGB hopes to complete magnifying the maps to a scale of 1:10,000 (1cm=100m on the ground) by 2014.

Developing models to predict the impact of disasters brought about by climate change is another project the MGB is considering.

The Philippines is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire and ranks as one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world.

According to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), an estimated 33 natural disasters struck the Philippine archipelago in 2011.