Addressing disasters in Sendai

March 17, 2015

This week promises to be a watershed moment for global cooperation in disaster risk reduction (DRR) as thousand of officials, academics, citizen leaders, and stakeholders from all regions of the world converged in Sendai, Japan from 14 to 18 March 2015 for the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. The conference will review the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) that has been the guiding document for the United Nations from 2010 up to this year. In the same conference, it is expected that the government present (practically all) will adopt a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. This new framework has been under discussion and negotiation for over a year now and countries are ready to move forward to the next stage.

The Sendai conference actually started dramatically, last Saturday. It convened, with the Emperor of Japan present and opening statements from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. But, as an Oxfam blog observed, the most anticipated speech was that of Mr. Baldwin Lonsdale, the President of Vanuatu, an island state in the Pacific which was hit hard by Tropical Cyclone Pam on Friday.

The Oxfam blog goes on to describe the speech: “President Lonsdale, visibly fighting back tears as he delivered his opening statement to the conference, came close to breaking down as he spoke of the tragedy that had stricken his small island nation. ‘I speak to you today with a heart that is so heavy… I do not know at this time what impact the cyclone has had on Vanuatu. I stand to ask you to give a lending hand to responding to this calamity that has struck us.’”

In an interview with BBC, the Vanuatu President pointed out: “This monster cyclone Pam is the worst ever to hit our country. We are a resilient hard working people but this is a heavy burden to bear. It is a major setback to our plans for the development of our country. We will need assistance to meet the humanitarian needs of the people. Hundreds have lost their homes. Roads and bridges have been washed away. The airport is damaged. Schools and health facilities will have to be rehabilitated. It will be like starting over again in many ways.”

Vanuatu’s experience is of course familiar to us having seen the wrath in the last ten years Typhoons Ruby, Yolanda, Pablo, Sendong, Ondoy, Pepeng, Frank, Reming, and Milenyo. That is why we sent to Sendai a 79 person contingent, led by Senator Loren Legarda (UN DRR champion for the Asia Pacific) and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman. It has also been reported that PAGASA Administrator Dr. Vicente Malano, Climate Change Commissioner Lucille Sering, Assistant Secretary for Education Reynaldo Laguda, Philippine Red Cross Chairman Dick Gordon, and Project Noah Director Dr. Mahar Lagmay are in Sendai as well. Academic institutions such as Ateneo de Manila University (two of my Ateneo School of Government colleagues Dr. Mary Jean Caleda and Atty. Pauline Caspellan are attending the conference), research centers like Manila Observatory and citizen organizations such as the Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines (DRRNetPhils) are also represented in the delegation.

Backstopping our presence is of course the brilliant and strategic minded National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Executive Director Undersecretary Alexander Pama and his staff. I talked to Usec. Pama a few weeks ago and I am very comforted that he knows what is at stake in Sendai and is focused about the positive outcomes we want from this important multilateral process.

I must also of course mention our team from the Department of Foreign Affairs who has followed this process closely from home, through the United Nations and International Organizations Office headed by Assistant Secretary Gary Domingo who is assisted on this issue by one of the most diligent diplomats I have worked with, Mr. Val Roque. And from Geneva, our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Cecile Rebong is attending Sendai to chair the Group of 77 and China, the negotiating bloc of developing countries.

Delivering yesterday the Philippine statement, Senator Legarda cited how we have leveraged our experiences and lessons learned from Typhoon Yolanda and continue to improve on the gaps and challenges. She pointed out: “During Typhoon Ruby (which hit us last year, our government has demonstrated significant improvement in executing prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response measures. Our efforts were implemented with the enhanced cooperation of the government and the people. The government ensured that the enabling environment includes policies, structure, resources, and systems for DRRM are in place including early warning and logistics for disaster preparedness and response.”

Senator Legarda did point out that while we have accomplished a lot, much remains to be done. She said: “We need to double our efforts for DRR, in tandem with our national and local development and climate change adaptation policies and programs. We need to complement DRR action with the rest of the DRRM spectrum, with a more robust system for disaster preparedness, and strategic, systematic and efficient recovery and rehabilitation of communities hit by disasters.”

I watched via live stream the speech of Senator Legarda and I must say listening to her made me proud of being a Filipino. She spoke with mastery of the subject matter, with authority, and passionately. She was able to communicate clearly our commitment “to continue working for safer, sustainable, climate change-adaptive and disaster-resilient communities aimed toward building a stronger nation and world, ending with an impassioned plea and a solid assurance:

“As we commit ourselves to addressing these enormous challenges, we, together with other countries in similar situations, need the support of the international community. In this regard, the Philippines calls on the international community to strengthen international cooperation and global partnership to assist developing countries, particularly those in vulnerable situations, the least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked countries and African countries, by providing them with enhanced means of implementation, through the provision of finance, technology transfer and capacity building in order for them to achieve a culture of resilience in all aspects.

There are those in Philippine Delegation who have been recognized by the UNISDR as Champions for the Asia-Pacific, legislative, local government, business and other sectors. But the 3rd WCDRRR, and the people of Sendai, Japan are assured that the entirety of the Philippines, our 100 million voices, are all Champions of Disaster Risk Reduction.”

Source: Manila Standard Today