Prioritize Disaster Preparedness, Aquino Urged


By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – . When typhoon Basyang (international name: Conson) hit Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces last Tuesday night, killing 26, people living in disaster prone areas traumatized by typhoon Ondoy last September 2009 were on their feet getting ready for another catastrophe. But Basyang had more wind than rain and left hundreds of families homeless and rendered Luzon without electricity.

The horror of Ondoy still haunts people. Government, on the other hand, only reacts when disaster strikes. Thus, the Citizen’s Disaster Response Center (CDRC) challenged President Benigno S. Aquino III to prioritize disaster preparedness to prevent what happened last September 2009.

“Let’s not wait for the next disaster to hit the Philippines before we reinforce our systems,” said Lourdes Louella Escandor, CDRC executive director, in a statement, adding that early preparation is the best solution to natural calamities.

According to CDRC, the Philippines topped the list of countries most frequently hit by natural disasters, as revealed by the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) being maintained by the Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).
CRED also ranked the Philippines second to China in the top ten list of countries most affected by natural disasters in 2009 with 13.6 million people affected.

Poor: Vulnerable to Disaster

Giovanni Tapang of Agham said the vulnerability of the country to disasters is not just a function of the hazards that are present in the country because earthquakes, typhoons, flooding are “part and parcel of our geographical (and geological) location.” It is aggravated by poverty, lack of preparedness and proper disaster response, said Tapang.

It is not only typhoon Ondoy that wreaked havoc to the country as it has always been battered by at least 20 typhoons every year. Typhoon Uring in 1991 was recorded as the most deadly typhoon in the Philippines that killed around 6,000 people. Typhoon Pepeng in November 2009 was the most destructive with P27.3 billion (USD 608 million) worth of properties lost. In the face of these tragic losses, what does the government do to prevent deaths and loss of shelter and livelihood in the future?

Suyin Jamoralin, advocacy officer of CDRC, said that in reality, poor families are the most affected by the calamity. “That’s why we in CDRC define disaster as a result of a hazard that hit vulnerable communities that have no capability to overcome its destructive effects.

Jamoralin said the Philippine government relies on a knee-jerk response to disasters. “They still would not invest on disaster preparedness activities, rehabilitation and mitigation. Their prevailing framework for disaster management is still within the traditional approach, which is focused on emergency relief measures rather than rehabilitation and mitigation. They only act when disaster happens and it’s often dole-out.” She added that this framework is one-dimensional.

The Presidential Task Force on Climate Change (PTFCC) in 2008 is one of the many government agencies that do not fully work. Its tasks are to “design concrete risk-reduction and mitigation measures and adaptation resources, especially to address short-term vulnerabilities, on sectors and areas where climate change will have the greatest impact.” But still, many lives were lost during typhoon Ondoy.

Tapang said that PTFCC is one-sided, “it only looks at technical solutions like geoengineering, carbon reduction etc. They should also take into account the biggest factor in our vulnerability, which is poverty. It is relatively easier for a family in Forbes Park to recover from floods than a family in a barong-barong (small hut) despite being hit by the same hazard (like floods). The widespread poverty makes us more vulnerable to climate change-induced problems.”

The National Disaster Coordinating Council and Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council also functions only when disasters happen. Tapang added that “they rarely have preparatory practice.” Like what happened with Basyang, Metro Manila was unprepared not only because the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) missed the prediction but because it simply was not ready for any disaster at all (predicted or not). No systems were in place, no clear lines of communications etc. — these lead to problems especially in crisis/disaster events.”

Philippine government also received funds from different funding agencies (http://www.bulatlat.com/main/2009/10/02/where-did-millions-of-aid-for-disaster-relief-go-ibon-wants-to-know/), but still, the government’s disaster response is not effective.

Community-based Disaster Management

CDRC pushes for Community-Based Disaster Management (CBDM). It is a comprehensive approach to disaster management with a development perspective.

Jamoralin said that central to this approach is people’s empowerment. “The people must be involved and participate fully in all aspects of the process to bring about development, including disaster management. They are involved in identifying potential risks and hazards to their communities, in building disaster preparedness committees (DPC) and in draftinf a counter disaster plan such as warning, evacuation plan, securing of resources, organizational arrangements and policies, evacuation drills and training of community leaders and members,” said Jamoralin.

Jamoralin said disaster management should be a holistic approach; it is not separate from people’s development. The CDRC, for example, does not only respond to disasters through relief, it trains communities on disaster preparedness; it has a program for mitigation (tree planting, seed banking, etc.), emergency response (relief delivery, evacuation center management, psychosocial services), and rehabilitation (reconstruction, shelter, livelihood, etc.). “Helping people help themselves” is the slogan they have been carrying for 26 years. It does not only lessen the communities’ vulnerability to disasters but also enables it to get rid of it.

But most of all, the government should address the root cause of disaster “which is people’s vulnerability stemming from social inequality and bad governance, especially anti-people policies. And these will not be solved only through relief delivery because disasters are not only caused by natural calamities, there is the underlying issue of poverty,” Jamoralin pointed.

Challenge to Aquino government

CDRC urged the new administration to fully implement the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121) which was signed into law by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last May 27 before she stepped down from office.

CDRC said that under the new law, the Calamity Fund, renamed as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRM Fund), could now be used for disaster risk reduction or mitigation, prevention and preparedness activities. Before this law was passed, the calamity fund could only be tapped during emergencies. Escandor said the challenge to the new administration is to ensure that this law is fully implemented down to the barangay level.

However, only around P600 million ($12,967,365 at an exchange rate of $1=P46.27) has been left in the calamity fund.

Jamoralin added that the new administration should prioritize disaster risk reduction in the country and to be more pro-active and not reactive. “He should also address the root causes of people’s vulnerability to disasters.” (Bulatlat.com)

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