Disaster risk reduction is everybody’s business

November 16, 2014

There is a long history of cooperation and selflessness in the face of crisis and disasters. “Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (Ketsana), Tropical Depression “Pepeng” (Tarma), Typhoon “Pablo” (Bopha), just to name a few, brought massive destruction and death, and yet these times of crisis also brought out the best in people in the many ways they tried to ease the suffering.

We bring out the best in ourselves by trying to help others survive after each disaster. But would it not be more practical and reasonable to approach today’s risks with concrete measures that diminish our vulnerabilities?

The Annual Disaster Statistical Review of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters showed that for 2013, 330 disasters triggered by natural hazards occurred in that year. The Philippines is among the top 5 countries most frequently hit by natural hazards. Yolanda, which killed 7,354 people in the Philippines, is one of the two disasters that killed more than 1,000 people in 2013.

Yolanda, which caused $10 billion in damage, was also one of the top two most damaging disasters in 2013, along with the flood in East and South Germany that caused $12.9 billion in economic damage.

Reliable support from Noah

Disasters as an enemy are becoming more enigmatic and formidable. It is no longer business as usual. The shift from reactive to proactive stance is now a must.

The situation calls for a multiagency approach for an early warning system anchored on close coordination among hazard warning organizations like the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, the disaster risk reduction agencies at the national and local levels and the support of critical sectors like the media and telecommunications.

In line with this, we need to strengthen the capacity of Pagasa as our national meteorological-hydrological services agency to deliver effective warning and risk reduction-related services.

Project Noah, or Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards, is a reliable support in building capacities for disaster risk reduction and management, as it provides updates and accurate information on weather predictions, flood forecasts, rainwater level and landslide warnings.

This year, the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act was enacted into law, through which the services of telecommunications companies may be tapped by the government in sending out disaster alerts such as flood or storm surge warnings and updates on forced evacuation in targeted communities, to mobile phone subscribers located in areas that would be affected by an impending natural hazard.

Local governments

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has an important role in ensuring effective coordination in risk-informed warning dissemination down to the community and the appropriate action to the warnings by the local authorities and the populace at risk.

Local governments must step up as well. They should plan well and invest public resources wisely with reducing disaster risk as a goal; promote a culture of safety and resilience engaging all groups; raise awareness of disaster and climate risk at community and family levels; and improve local early warning and community preparedness systems.

Role of business

In light of the call to “build back better,” the government would also need support from the business sector.

Businesses have the potential to bring in core competencies for shaping innovative solutions and therefore play a vital role in building resilience.

Building better will only be meaningful if the standards we use comply with resilience benchmarks.

We need better investments in flood control, forest management, hazard identification, mapping and assessment, research and development, and risk financing.

It is also important that the private sector put disaster resilience at the core of their business strategies and put in place a business continuity plan to allow them to get their systems back in order, immediately after a disaster, without substantial disruption and income loss.

Toward the brink

The 2015 UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Global Assessment Report on disaster risk reduction is coming out next March and it will likely indicate that development is becoming more and more elusive with the severity of the risk dilemma.

Recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expound on the grim scenario for the future. Humanity may very well be heading toward the brink.

In 2005, 168 countries adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015 at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan.

The HFA lays out a detailed set of priorities that would help reduce disaster losses substantially, and is a key guide for adaptation action.

It urges governments to (1) make disaster risk reduction a priority at national and local levels; (2) know the risks and enhance early warning; (3) build understanding and awareness; (4) reduce the underlying risk factors; and (5) strengthen disaster preparedness and response.

‘Best risk reduction laws’

As we head toward the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in March 2015 in Sendai, where the new disaster risk reduction priority action (HFA2) will be presented, we need to look at how far we have gone in achieving the goals of the HFA.

In legislation, we have what are considered among the best disaster risk reduction laws in the world—the Climate Change Act and the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Law.

We also have the People’s Survival Fund to support up to P1 billion worth of climate change adaptation programs of local governments and nongovernment organizations in 2015.

Altogether, these provide the framework and commensurate funding to build resilience through the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in various phases of formulating policy, development plans, poverty reduction strategies and other development tools by all government agents.

Although the level of action has yet to achieve the goals of these laws, we are seeing gradual development—from the change in mindset to the actual implementation of resilience programs.

Effective risk reduction

Our concern now is how to effectively reduce disaster risk as it becomes more complex given the increasing frequency, intensity and uncertainty of extreme hazard events.

We need to rethink approaches to disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. The successor to the HFA should deal with these concerns.

As a nation that is among the most vulnerable to disasters and climate change, the Philippines should convey the lessons of past disasters, especially Yolanda, in the framing process and in the world forum. This is an opportunity to define both local and global actions to reduce disaster losses in the next decade or so.

At the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) held in June 2014, the Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, contributed to the Asia-Pacific Input Document for HFA2 by advocating for a more equitable distribution of responsibility to both governments and other groups, essentially saying, “DRR should be everybody’s business.”

During the First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 3rd WCDRR, we highlighted the centrality of governments in disaster risk reduction and the need to enhance risk management, ensure transparency, and include migrants and other vulnerable groups in the legal framework.

Celebratory video

The Philippines was likewise involved in informal discussions on the prezero draft text of HFA2.

In a bid to share the country’s successes and challenges under the HFA, the Philippines is preparing a celebratory video to be shared during the 3rd WCDRR in Sendai either in the ministerial level plenary session or at the intergovernmental forum and public forum. This will be the Philippines’ accomplishment report to the world.

As developing nations chart a new course for the sustainable and resilient future of a climate change-altered planet, typhoon-battered Philippines can take the lead.

‘Cultural revolution’

I therefore call for a “cultural revolution,” for humanity to adapt to a fast-changing environment and to adopt a risk-informed lifestyle.

We must now live on the planet mindful of the need to reduce risk to life, livelihood and property.

This should apply in all aspects of our daily life—in designing a product, in engineering a structure, and in planning development programs or projects.

This cultural transformation for a safer world entails a new way of thinking and doing our everyday business that prevents socioeconomic losses and ensures genuine human development.

Source: Inquirer