Disaster risk reduction can be done

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As we face the difficult task of recovering and rebuilding from the devastation caused by Typhoon “Pablo” in Mindanao, we ought to revisit the tragedies of the past and relearn the lessons we seem to never learn: Community awareness and action in disaster risk reduction, sound development planning and the political will to make things happen can make the difference in saving lives and building a safe and resilient community.

When the heavy rains of Typhoon “Gener” triggered major landslides in the populated barangay of Cunsad in Alimodian, Iloilo, last July, roads and farmlands were destroyed, yet no lives and limbs were lost. We wonder: How was this possible? What role did the local government play in saving human lives?

In this Iloilo town, the natural signs of an impending landslide such as ground fissures and displacement showed up as early as last year, which the municipal government under Mayor Juanito Alipao immediately reported to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for risk assessment.

Upon the advice of geologists to relocate residents, the local leadership acted quickly to explain the landslide threat to families at risk and to persuade them to heed the advice.

Residents grateful

In the aftermath of the devastating landslide in Cunsad, residents were grateful to the local government for having saved their lives and properties. Now, all 51 barangays of Alimodian have drawn up hazard-risk maps, aware of the dangers they face from typhoons and other natural hazards as well as how to keep safe from harm.

In hindsight, had the local governments acted promptly on the flood risk assessment for Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City, and heeded the call to relocate residents at risk, the impact of Tropical Storm “Sendong” (international name: “Washi”) in December 2011 would not have been of unprecedented scale.

Another notable best practice in the country is the purok system in the municipality of San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu, which won the 2011 United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Reduction.

The purok system focuses on addressing the vulnerability of every barangay by mobilizing local resources in creating practical solutions based on the unique needs of the community.

Residents are vigilant in implementing segregation at source—strictly enforcing their no-trash-segregation-no-collection policy, recycling, composting and the collection of payment for carbon taxes, which are based on the amount of domestic waste produced from day to day.

The town of San Francisco, along with Makati City and Albay province, is also among the UN’s 29 model communities worldwide in disaster-risk reduction (DRR) and management.

Makati was cited for integrating DRR practices and policies in its system of governance, most especially in urban planning, health programs, disaster response and risk governance, while Albay was recognized for its focus on preparing comprehensive land use plans that address climate and disaster risks, and investing in disaster-resilient infrastructure.

 

Mangrove reforested

In Montalban, Rizal, a group of women farmers have started to practice agroforestry to adapt to the prolonged wet season; while in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, women fisherfolk have reforested over a hundred hectares of mangrove to protect their settlements from storm surges and secure additional sources of food.

The townspeople of Hinatuan unclogged canals, cleaned up their surroundings and the seawater, and regulated plastic use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions through a waste management program that supported local compliance of the law.

Clearly, if these communities can effectively enforce our environmental laws and create strategies for climate change adaptation, there is no reason for other towns, cities or provinces to say that it cannot be done.

Constant assessment

Fundamentally, adapting to our fast-changing environment entails constant assessment of risk in our midst. It is high time that every local development plan seriously consider the threats posed by natural hazards and climate change, and aim at reducing exposure and losses in lives, livelihoods and properties. Hazard maps and risk assessments must be basic planning tools.

Pablo has unveiled the vulnerability of our Mindanao communities to typhoons, landslides and flash floods. At least 1,067 have lost their lives, while 2,666 are injured and 834 are still missing. The damage to agriculture, infrastructure and property now stands at well over P39 billion.

It is undeniable that this vulnerability is driven mostly by poverty, socioeconomic inequality and environmental degradation. Our local leaders, therefore, need to understand how disasters are woven inextricably in a vicious cycle with these three factors.

Poverty breeds disaster vulnerability as those who have least in life risk life most. It is the poor who are more likely to live in unsafe locations and in weakly built structures. It is the poor who suffer most with long-term consequences since they have less means to recover.

 

Making a difference

Thus, it is only in addressing altogether poverty, livelihood, environment and disaster risk that local governance can make a genuine difference.

With climate change and extreme weather events as the “new normal,” our country cannot afford recurring tragedies and disaster losses from storms such as Sendong and Pablo in Mindanao.

It is estimated that in every destructive typhoon season we lose as much as 2 percent of our GDP, further costing the country 2 percent for reconstruction or a combined economic setback of almost 5 percent every year.

As we welcome 2013, we hope to instill in the mind of every leader and citizen the wisdom to make our nation disaster-resilient to free us, once and for all, from the exhausting and costly cycle of rebuilding our communities every single time nature unleashes its wrath.

Survival fund

We aim to have more workshops in 2013 for sharing of best practices among local government units, while providing information about the People’s Survival Fund, to build up resilience to natural hazards.

Climate change adaptation, disaster preparedness and risk reduction constitute our greatest humanitarian challenge. We can overcome these challenges if our mechanisms in place actually address the specific vulnerabilities present in each community.

Certainly, reducing disaster risk effectively for sustainable growth is a mark of good governance and good political leadership. To make a difference in this sphere is clearly the leadership challenge of our times.

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • kilabot

    reduced perversion results in disaster risk reduction. try it. it’s proven.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HQD3I42NN5GHFYN25Q7YYVD6Q4 Paul

    The Pulse asia survey result/articles say that environmental protection is now a national issue.

  • MarjLagdameo

    We agree with you Senator Legarda, some of our towns have done it, we are sure others can do it too. . .

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LDFCZDMT47EJRAXK4MDK5LPAEI Marjorie

    we wish for a disaster-free 2013!! Let’s get to an early start by simply segregating our trash and disposing them properly lalo na ngayong kakatapos lang ng mga parties/feast. kaya naman natin ito basta mag disiplina lang tayo. :).

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/UTWQIZQ7IDMS6RJMMHCD4SJNB4 Arnel

      Disaster FREE 2013!!!!!!! Kaya natin ito mga kababayan! :)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/47YJFNAH72W7F7OW5PEMP5IV6A Ryan

    “The town of San Francisco, along with Makati City and Albay province, is also among the UN’s 29 model communities worldwide in disaster-risk reduction (DRR) and management.”
    – witwiiiw!!!  Congratulations to the towns mentioned here. They are good examples for other towns, especially Metro Manila. I hope other places will be inspired by this.

  • T_O_S_H_I_O

    Let’s thank Loren Legarda for the environmental laws that she made that help us adapt to the changing climate. Disaster preparedness is more important than reacting when its already there.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/UTWQIZQ7IDMS6RJMMHCD4SJNB4 Arnel

      Tama. Mas okay naman siguro ang maging ready talaga. Buti nga natututo na mga PInoy ngayon at nakita na nila ang kahalagahan ng prevention.

  • T_O_S_H_I_O

    Madam! Thank you po for the People’s Survival Fund and Solid Waste Management Law! Now, mabibigayang training/workshop yung mga tao pra matuto sila more sa Disaster Reduction.

  • LadyBalmaceda

    Sinusunod po namin sa school ang “Solid Waste Management Law” para makatulong kami sa sa pag preserve ng kalikasan. Si senator Legarda may pakana nun? Galing po! >,<

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UTWQIZQ7IDMS6RJMMHCD4SJNB4 Arnel

    Sa bahay inumpisahan na namin maghiwahiwalay ng mga basura. San lahat ng pinoy gawin na din ito…

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