Google Crisis Response Summit

April 30, 2014

Senator Loren Legarda’s Keynote Speech

Google Crisis Response Summit

30 April 2014 –SMX Convention Center


It is with great pleasure that I take part in this event, the Google Crisis Response Summit, where we see convergence among various sectors of society to use technology and innovation in finding solutions to the growing social, economic and development challenges caused by disasters arising from natural hazards made stronger by climate change.


Here in our country, disaster risks abound. The Philippines, being an archipelagic state located in the western edge of the Pacific Ocean and directly within the Ring of Fire, faces the constant risk of typhoons, drought, as well as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Now with climate change, we confront weather in extremes.


According to climate scientists, heavy and excessive rainfall is “the new normal”. This means we shall experience weather extremes that are more widespread and harder to predict more frequently.


We are normally visited by an average of 20 typhoons a year. But in 2013, 25 typhoons went inside the Philippine Area of Responsibility, the strongest of which, Yolanda, killed more than 6,000 individuals. We have also been experiencing heavy rainfall due to the Southwest Monsoon or hanging Habagat.


Meanwhile, earthquakes are normal occurrences in the country. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) records daily seismic events in various parts of the country. The strongest earthquake it recorded last year was the 7.2 magnitude quake in Sagbayan, Bohol that occurred on October 15.


The said earthquake released energy reportedly equivalent to 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs. We lost more 200 people and a number of our heritage sites, as centuries-old churches were destroyed along with homes and infrastructure.


Had an earthquake of the same magnitude occured in Metro Manila, 40% of residential buildings and 30% of all public buildings would have been damaged. It might have killed 34,000 individuals and caused fires resulting in 18,000 additional fatalities. That is according to the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2004.


While we know the risks, it is unfortunate that when these natural hazards occur, we are devastated and we realize that we have not prepared enough. There have been improvements in the way the government and communities have prepared for natural hazards, but the greater intensity of these calamitous events makes disaster prevention an even daunting task. As such, there is a greater need to capacitate local government units (LGUs) and communities in working towards disaster resilience.


In the Senate, we have worked on several pieces of legislation towards this goal.


Republic Act No. 9729, The Climate Change Act of 2009,provides the framework to build the Philippines’ resilience through the mainstreaming of climate change in various phases of policy formulation, development plans, poverty reduction strategies and other development tools by all agencies of government. Further, the law created the Climate Change Commission, chaired by no less than the President of the Philippines, to implement a National Climate Change Action Plan that would address the national impacts of climate change and systematize the identification of vulnerable communities including ecosystems, identification of the disproportionate impact of disasters on men, women and children, assessment of management of risks and the identification of greenhouse gas mitigation potentials.


Republic Act No. 10121, The Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, promotes a comprehensive National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan that strengthens the capacity of the national government and the LGUs together with partner stakeholders, to build the disaster resilience of communities. Now, disaster prevention-mitigation-and-preparedness is seen as more beneficial and cost-effective than disaster response, and is achieved through building knowledge and capacities in communities and individuals. It echoes the message of the old adage: Prevention is better than cure.


Republic Act No. 10174 created the People’s Survival Fund as a special fund in the National Treasury to finance climate change adaptation activities of local governments and organizations in the areas of water resources management, land management, agriculture and fisheries, health, infrastructure development, forecasting and early warning systems, and institutional development of local governments, among other community adaptation support programs.


Two of these laws, the Climate Change Act and the NDRRMC Law, were hailed as among the “best [laws] in the world” by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction head, Margareta Wahlstrom.


However, these laws are only as good as the commitment of implementing agencies and local governments to faithfully comply with the provisions incorporated in the measures.


In our effort to inform and educate more Filipinos and communities about building resilience, we have shared five steps that can be done to save lives and prevent disasters:


1. Manage risks way ahead of disasters.


In the lingo of disaster reduction experts, this is simply called “risk governance.” LGUs must determine if certain risks are prevalent in a community, making it vulnerable to the effects of a landslide, flooding, tsunami, storm surge or earthquake.


Local disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) plans that are linked to short-term and long-term development and investment plans must be drawn and adopted to address prevailing risks and vulnerabilities. Local funds should be sufficiently allocated and invested in activities that effectively and efficiently achieve the plan objectives.


The World Bank estimates that every dollar invested in disaster reduction saves seven to ten dollars in losses from natural disasters.


2. Make every Filipino ‘disaster-literate.’


Sound policies and political will to implement do not complete the formula for effective disaster prevention. There needs to be cooperation from the public. Early and mandatory evacuation would be useless if the people do not understand the need for it.


Raising public awareness should be made to resonate loudly and as far deep into the communities as possible. If some of our people do not yet see how the issues are relevant to them, it is our responsibility to draw them in. The national government, together with development partners, should help strengthen the capacity of local government units and local communities in risk-sensitive planning and resilience building.  A good entry point at the community level is the provision of relevant training to families enrolled in the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, with the DSWD and the League of Barangays together steering the initiative.


3. Let the science work for you.


Adequately preparing for a disaster means knowing it fully well and the dangers it brings. Having experts gather and validate scientific data allows the accurate prediction of events, which could then be matched with the best practical solutions. When and where a typhoon will strike, and how, are critical knowledge that will allow the community to timely seek safer ground and fully protect their homes and properties.


With high reliability of disaster data, it is expected that the private sector will be more confident to enter into risk financing schemes without fear of massive losses.


4. Protect the environment.


Building on good risk reduction practices means going back to the very basics: protecting our ecosystems and natural buffers such as mangrove forests to mitigate floods, storm surges and other hazards.


Our environment and its ecosystem support human life and provide the basic materials for our economy, such as food, fuel and clean water. The ecosystem also sequesters carbon emissions, regulates erosion and landslides, and reduces floods.


5.  Preparation is half the battle won.


While disaster prevention should be the greater focus of our efforts, response preparedness is likewise important to prevent further casualties and reduce losses.


Contingency plans are crucial in times of disasters. Communities must draw and test regularly their response plan way ahead of any disaster event and improve constantly on early warning systems and emergency management capacities.


LGUs must have the political will to implement forced evacuation when called for.  Shelters for evacuees should be well designed, built strong and prepared ahead of time with emergency supplies of food, water, medicine and toiletries, while government agencies are ready to augment the basic needs of evacuees.


Local disaster risk reduction and management officers should be alert. Quick communication, particularly real-time updates, is also vital in ensuring effective disaster response with first responders and search and rescue teams ready for dispatch anytime.


However, much more is called for by our fast-changing environment that is marked by increasing disaster and climate risks.  Inevitably, we must take a path towards resilience.  And to build resilience, convergence is vital not only among government agencies but also among stakeholders across all sectors.


Google’s Crisis Response tools that were presented today—the Google Person Finder, Google Crisis Map and Google Public Alerts—offer improved efficiency in early warning and disaster information dissemination by early forecasting with the aid of the Internet.


Truly helpful in this regard is the Department of Science and Technology’s Project NOAH, or Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards, of which Google Crisis Response is part.


The collaboration between the Philippine government and Google in strengthening disaster risk management must remain and endure.


The Google Crisis Map offers tools that government agencies can use in locating temporary shelters for evacuees. Tested in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda,  Google Person Finder proves helpful to families in locating their loved ones in the affected areas.


While we appreciate the importance of these tools,  I hope that demand for their use is taken over instead by a growing demand for – if I may suggest an application– a ‘Google Risk Finder’ that informs and encourages proactive interventions by all sectors, and early action by everyone.


Fundamentally, building resilience requires a risk-informed population. We could help our government sustain our country’s socio-economic gains, make a difference in poverty reduction and eventually ensure the achievement of sustainable development goals when perennial disaster losses are susbtantially reduced.


There will be many more typhoons, earthquakes and other natural hazards that will come our way. But, let us not be content in having beautiful systems for disaster response and relief. The challenge at hand is to do more and to do better in prevention and risk reduction.


Let us continue to develop information technology to serve humanity better, bringing about improved quality of life and building a safer, more resilient and sustainable world for all.


Thank you and good afternoon.***