As we observe World Environment Day this week, I rise to bring to the attention of this august chamber the main messages of the recently launched 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction of the United Nations, which aims to reveal risks and redefine development.
The world has been seeing the worst, biggest and deadliest disasters over the years – the floods in Pakistan, the earthquakes in Haiti, China and Chile, and the triple tragedy in Japan. In the Philippines, the threat of typhoon Chedeng brought back the fears of another Ondoy or Pepeng, which killed nearly a thousand people and affected about two million families in 2009.
Two years ago, I conveyed to the Senate the message of the previous Report (GAR 2009): Disasters will only be averted if countries successfully address its underlying drivers – (1) poor urban governance, (2) ecosystem decline, and (3) vulnerable rural livelihoods.
Inferring on new and enhanced data, the 2011 Report underscores the political and economic imperative to reduce disaster impacts and offers suggestions to governments and stakeholders on how we can effectively meet this objective.
Allow me to highlight its main findings.
Risk Trends: Economic Losses Up, Mortality Down
The good news is that globally we are protecting more people from disasters. The bad news is that we are losing more of our economic assets due to the same disasters. The risk of being killed by a cyclone or flood is lower today than it was 20 years ago. However, this is not the case for those who live in a country with low GDP and weak governance. The August 2010 flooding in Pakistan, which caused 1,700 fatalities and US$9.7 billion in total damage and losses, is a testament to this.
What is alarming is that across all regions, economic losses due to disasters continue to be in an upward trend – and seriously threatens the economies of low-income countries. In absolute terms, the proportion of the world’s GDP exposed to tropical cyclones tripled to more than US$1.9 trillion.
We observe the same trends in the Philippines. According to a UNISDR-World Bank report in 2010, in the last 30 years, even though the number of disaster events have increased 3 times in the country, the reported number of deaths have decreased slightly, and the number of affected population staying the same, but alarmingly,the economic losses increased drastically by more than 17 times .Bagama’t bumaba nang kaunti ang bilang ng mga namatay sa mga kalamidad, nakababahala na ang kawalan sa ekonomiya ay lumaki nang labimpitong beses.
It may baffle our minds why the trend in disaster mortality is down while economic losses are up. The Report reveals that while governments may have improved its disaster preparedness measures such as preemptive evacuation, we still expose our population and assets in hazard-prone areas, a clear manifestation of poorly managed urbanization.
This highlights the need to ensure the integration of disaster risks into our local land use and development plans.
For local governments in the Philippines, the authority and system of comprehensive land use planning provides the opportunity for the integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
With the advent of the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 and the Climate Change Act of 2009, the time and institutions are ripe for this kind of integration.
The latest figures from Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board show that many cities and municipalities prepare their respective Comprehensive Land Use Plans or CLUPs, and most of these have not integrated the tools of DRR and CCA, except for the simple hazard maps, in delineating the use of land resource in their jurisdiction.
At present, there are 340 LGUs, which still need to update their CLUPs. Most of these are 3rd to 6th class municipalities that have low income but high vulnerability to various types of disasters.
In addition, 23 provinces are also in need of developing their Physical Framework Plans.
This is a good opportunity to institutionalize DRR and CCA in the local planning process and practice of LGUs and the time is right to call on the National Economic Development Authority and the Department of Interior and Local Government, together with Office of Civil Defense and the Climate Change Commission, to assist LGUs in this process.
Issues of Vulnerability – Children, Displacement, Complex Vulnerabilities
The Report also tells us that at least 66 million children are affected by disasters each year. Disasters resulted in increased incidences of diarrhea in children under five years of age in Bolivia, more malnourished children under the age of three in Nepal, and increased infant mortality in Viet Nam, emphasizing the need for greater intervention to address children’s vulnerability.
I urge the Department of Health and the Climate Change Commission to undertake a similar study as a first step to safeguard the health and welfare of Filipino children from the risks of disasters.
Meanwhile, the fact that disasters lead to large-scale internal displacement is not new to us and must be seriously looked into by our housing agencies. Looking back, 2 million families or 10 million individuals were affected in the flooding or landslides caused by Ondoy and Pepeng. Totally or partially damaged homes reached 220,000. Other Asian countries faced this predicament, with Pakistan’s 2010 floods and India’s 2008 floods leaving an estimated 6 million people in need of shelter.
In March, we have seen new and emerging patterns of vulnerability linked with the growing interdependency of the different technological systems: energy, telecommunications, finance and banking, transport, water, and sanitation. The triple tragedy in Japan – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster – revealed how these new vulnerabilities multiply disaster risks and exponentially magnify impacts.
Drought: The Hidden Risk
The Report asserts that globally, drought impacts remain inadequately understood and poorly managed. As only a few countries thoroughly document drought losses or have a national policy to address risks, drought has become a “largely invisible risk” despite its significant impacts on agricultural production, rural livelihoods, and urban and rural economies.
Here in the Philippines, the damage to agriculture due to El Nino-related drought from 1990 to 2003 was estimated to be more than US$ 370 million. Warmer temperatures also put pressure on our fisheries yield. With coral bleaching, as much as 8,000 to 24,000 metric tons of fish per year is estimated to be lost. This projected loss, valued at Four billion pesos, can feed about 150,000 impoverished families.
Add to this concern the unabated degradation of our marine resources that ultimately result to the pitiful catch of our fishermen. Considering that the rural poor, highly dependent on farm and fishery sectors, increasingly feel these pressures, we need to ask the Department of Agriculture on their strategies to help this vulnerable population in buffering and absorbing drought impacts.
Reforming Risk Governance
The success of reducing and managing disaster impacts rests with policy coherence in the national government, competent and accountable local governments, and an openness to work in partnership with civil society.
LGUs have a better understanding of the needs of their communities and the concerns of their citizens, especially during disasters. We need local leaders who possess wholehearted commitment to effectively address these needs.
As lawmakers, we must urge the national government to prioritize and harmonize disaster risk reduction strategies. We also have the opportunity to lay the foundation for increased investment in risk reduction at all levels. We play a critical role in arresting the chronic cycle of disaster vulnerability and poverty.
Redefining Development: Scaling Up Disaster Risk Management
The message of the Report is straightforward:Development must be redefined to be sensitive to disaster and climate risks .
The important starting point is political commitment and our measure for success will be more disaster-resilient financial investments for development efforts and ultimately, better and greater quality of life for our long-suffering people.
Disaster impacts should be evaluated in public investment planning from national to local levels. We therefore pose important questions to the NEDA: Will the Philippine development and investment plans, as they currently stand, be able to withstand the projected ill effects of climate change on various sectors? How can we be assured that we will not put to waste the billions of pesos to be invested in our new infrastructure and urban development programs?
The Philippines has begun heeding the social demand for disaster resilience. But the greater challenge remains, and this is what the Global Assessment Report fundamentally urges us to do – to sustain this renewed engagement among us, leaders and stakeholders, in protecting our development gains, and in building a safer tomorrow.
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“Revealing Risks, Redefining Development”