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Investing in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Capabilities

June 22, 2012

Investing in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Capabilities
SMX Convention Center, Pasay City
June 22, 2012

Climate change has become the greatest humanitarian and development challenge of our time.

The Philippines is, in fact, the world’s most disaster-hit country in 2011.

According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), there were 302 disasters from natural hazards worldwide, and 33 of them occurred in the Philippines. These disasters from natural hazards cost the Philippines 26 billion pesos in damages and displaced a record 15.3 million people.1

Even more disturbing is the fact that the number of disasters in the Philippines actually increased by 50% in 2011.[2]

We should no longer be surprised by these facts as we Filipinos have witnessed some of the biggest and deadliest disasters in history. And we can no longer ascribe them to strokes of bad luck. If we remain unprepared, the effects of natural hazards will continue to set us back, taking millions of lives, properties, and jobs with them.
This is why I thank the Philippine Air Force for recognizing the urgency of investing in air power capabilities to combat the challenges of our time. By including this theme in the Air Power Symposium 2012, you are taking a concrete step towards a resilient nation and a sustainable future.

Today, I am pleased to share my thoughts on the rationale for investing in air power capabilities for humanitarian assistance and disaster response in light of worsening disasters and the impact of climate change.

I believe you will agree that climate change is not just a scientific issue. It is a cross-cutting concern that touches upon our basic human rights – food, potable water, decent shelter, and even life itself. Climate change aggravates floods, droughts, and super typhoons, and they regularly strike us with their attendant savagery. All of these kill people, destroy property, upset our production and planting schedules, and undo our development gains.

Let us revisit the impacts of tropical cyclones Ondoy, Pepeng, and Santi in 2009:
• Two million families or ten million individuals were affected in the flooding or landslides; • Nearly a thousand people perished; • Total damages and losses amounted to 4.4 billion dollars or the equivalent of 2.7 percent of the country’s GDP; and • The Agriculture sector alone lost 29.38 billion pesos, covering 30 provinces in seven regions. Clearly, climate change presents a national security challenge of a different kind.

One of the linchpins of our defense and security against these new security challenges is the Philippine Air Force (PAF) because there are key roles that only a specialized air force will be able to provide. To illustrate, I will briefly talk about the air forces of two countries that have already intensified efforts on humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has a highly successful disaster intervention and rehabilitation program that has provided rescue and relief even beyond India’s borders. Among its disaster preparedness efforts are comprehensive lists of usable airstrip and hospitals earmarked for evacuation, as well as precision digital maps of all districts and urban centers.

One of the many instances that the IAF demonstrated its reach and efficiency was during the unprecedented rains in North Karnataka, India in September 2009. Lives hung in the balance as water levels rose so high that a village about one kilometer away from the river bank was already totally under water. IAF helicopters braved the harsh conditions, saved 47 lives through eight rescue missions, and dropped a total of 1,200,000 kilograms of relief items including water, food and medicines to the victims stranded on the roofs of their houses.

The IAF has also sent relief materials to victims of disasters in Sri Lanka, South Asia, Afghanistan, and the United States.

The Bangladesh Air Force (BAF), on the other hand, keeps its transport aircrafts and helicopters ready for emergency flights during the pre-disaster stage. It also secures updated charts of coastal areas, offshore coastal islands and disaster-prone areas, as well as lists of airfields and helipads.

During disasters, they furnish any additional meteorological information gathered through their own resources to supplement the information of their weather department and conduct rescue and relief missions.

In the post-disaster stage, they supplement the existing civil wireless network by the BAF wireless and Radio Telephone links for transmission of important operational messages, carry out aerial surveys of affected areas, and provide transportation for government officials to affected areas.

These are some of the practices we can emulate for our own air force.
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) was said to be one of the best-equipped air forces in Southeast Asia during the 1960s. However, the Air Force fleet gradually depreciated and transport aircraft inventory had been very severely depleted.

There is an urgent need to step up the investments in our air power. We should also invest in rescue equipment and train PAF personnel for comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM), as there are aspects of DRRM that only the PAF can cover, such as aerial surveys and transportation when ground routes become unavailable.
A lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve Corps, I co-sponsored the amendments to the AFP Modernization Act believing that the modernization program will respond to the needs of our military personnel amidst the changing nature of our security environment. We also take pride in the significant gains that the Philippine legislature has achieved in passing the Climate Change Act of 2009 and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

And we have concurred in the ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, or the AADMER, which will intensify the cooperation between ASEAN nations in early warning, prevention, preparedness, response, and rehabilitation.
The difficult task is to translate these measures into clear and measurable impacts from the national to local level.

Through this symposium of the Philippine Air Force, I am glad that we are truly pursuing the integration of climate change into national security and defense strategies.
We need to identify the serious security risks that a changing climate presents, the conditions that these will create, how these may affect the country’s national security interests and what actions the nation should take to address these consequences.
We need to explore partnerships that will help the country build the mechanisms necessary to enhance resiliency to the common battle against disasters and climate change. We need to act now in order to provide a safe, stable, and secure environment for our people.
Thank you and good day.

[1] Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (2012) Philippines is World’s Most Disaster-hit Country in 2011 [2] Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (2012) Philippine Disaster Report 2011