Disaster risk response a local political agendum

(Reprinted from the The Filipino Connection


Today’s climate change era has created a new agendum for local politicians and public servants: disaster risk reduction.

Reducing the risks brought about by floods, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes is not actually new for the Philippines. Even before global warming had altered the lifestyles of this planet’s over-six billion inhabitants, the Philippines has been accustomed to typhoons every June to November, as well as to catastrophic eruptions (like Mt. Pinatubo in 1991) and earthquakes (like the 1990 tremor). Luckily, a 7.8 tremor in the seabed near Northern Samar last August did not create an expectedly damaging impact unto Filipinos.

So responding to these natural disasters through risk reduction, or whatever it was called in the pre-climate change era, is not entirely new. DRR as a “term” for today’s disaster response efforts is new, sweeping public officials and private and civil society actors in the last ten years. It is the nature and innovativeness of the DRR actions that matter.

Albay province, found in poverty-stricken Bicol region, comes to mind. Knowing that typhoons are commonplace and the province is a frequent route, current governor Joey Salceda had in place a wholistic DRR effort —from provincial-to-municipal response teams to setting up meteorological devices in identified areas. The agricultural sector was also part of the province’s DRR equation. Specify effort here for agriculture. Impacts brought about by droughts, caused by the El Nino phenomenon, are also included here.

These efforts by Albay have earned for the province national and international awards for disaster risk reduction —all these being bonuses for the intended, felt-life objectives of Albayanon DRR efforts: public safety and providing social safety nets unto affected residents.

Even Albay’s efforts came before a typhoon named Ondoy became part of the Filipino consciousness when dealing with rains. One may recall how quick the flood waters Ondoy dropped were in just a matter of hours, especially for residents in the Philippines’ capital region and in the Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Ilocos regions. Last year, typhoon Sendong ravaged Northern Mindanao and, like Ondoy, left as much destruction.

Just last August, there were no typhoons but a monsoon —supposedly a weaker type of a weather disturbance. But weather systems like typhoons, depressions or monsoons, even if they’re spotted by satellite feeds, are as unpredictable in terms of outcome. That August monsoon dropped floodwaters nearly similar to Ondoy’s rainfall.

The losers? Not just affected people, but localities’ absence of a comprehensive disaster risk reduction effort. Batangas province had its own share of experiences recently with typhoon Ofel: Three Batangueno municipalities declared a state of calamity recently, while Batangas City’s riverbank overflowed and swept to death two riverbank residents.

National legislation responded with the enactment of the Disaster Risk Reduction Act of 2009. With the creation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRMMC), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) then mandated all local governments to set up their local DRRMCs and, when funds permit, purchase necessary rescue equipment. Scientists and environmentalists belonging to the Manila Observatory, for their part, have already identified the Philippine provinces prone to natural disasters —rains, earthquakes, and all types of natural disasters combined. There are also area-specific concerns: cities contend with disasters’ impact unto urbanization issues, while rural municipalities do have to check on their areas’ geological hazards frequently.

Albay remains the Philippine barometer for localized DRR action. Only a handful of local governments come close to Albay’s example. Many communities are still missing out comprehensive DRR actions and responses, and will only respond when the calamity actually comes their way and people feel the aftermath. After the August monsoon rains struck, the World Bank observed that there needs more improvement unto DRR efforts even if they’re already in place.

Local governments big and small are all looking forward to national and local elections this May 2013. Sure elections provide big stakes to local politicians, but the stakes —political included— are higher if local communities have no comprehensive DRR actions in place.#