Learning from the Past to Build a Resilient Future

February 3, 2014

Senator Loren Legarda’s Privilege Speech

“Learning from the Past to Build a Resilient Future”

Senate Session Hall

It is nearly three months post-Yolanda and challenges continue to arise as many of the survivors either continue to depend on government and foreign aid or make use of their resourcefulness to make ends meet.


I rise today to stress on this message: We do not build resilience through relief efforts. Instead, we have to lessen the need for disaster relief.


Like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, typhoon Yolanda shocked the world. Images of the destruction it caused remain vivid in our minds and the scale of devastation it generated make us rethink of our development path. Yolanda has become the new benchmark of disaster prevention.


As a country exposed to storms, we should now be experts in preparing for typhoons; we should now be typhoon-resilient at the very least. After all, we have already experienced Ondoy, Pepeng, Pablo and Sendong. Unfortunately, Yolanda happened and we only realize that we have yet to do what we ought to do.


When disaster strikes a part of our nation, it does not only affect that particular city, it also impacts the economy, which in turn affects everyone in the country. Losses due to Yolanda are estimated at $15 billion, which represents close to five percent of the Philippines annual GDP. Meanwhile, losses due to typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 were equivalent to 2.7% of the country’s GDP.


Globally, economic losses due to disasters are taking a toll on development. These losses will continue to escalate unless disaster risk management becomes a core part of business investment strategies. Direct losses from floods, earthquakes and drought have been underestimated by at least 50%. So far this century, global losses from disasters are in the range of $2.5 trillion.


As a fundamental development strategy, building resilience would help our government sustain the country’s socio-economic gains, make a difference in poverty reduction, and eventually ensure the achievement of sustainable development goals.


Allow me first to go over the five major factors that contribute to our vulnerability to natural hazards.


First is ecosystems decline. Despite our environmental laws, our ecosystems continue to decline. Approximately 70% of our mangroves and 20% of the sea-grass in our coasts have been destroyed; 90% of our coral reefs are under threat; the biomass of coastal fish stocks stand at only 10%; and our forest cover is only half of the ideal. After 12 years, only 25.7% of LGUs have complied with the Solid Waste Management Act.


Second, economic gains are at risk.  Economic loss risk to typhoons and floods is growing as the exposure of economic assets and livelihoods increases. Moreover, direct losses from major disasters like Ondoy, Pepeng, Sendong and Pablo place a significant fiscal burden on the government and trigger indirect and wider impacts that challenge the country’s macroeconomic stability and poverty reduction efforts. As a country striving for competitiveness and economic sustainability, we need to recognize the potentially significant macroeconomic implication of disasters.


Third, poverty prevails. Despite our impressive economic growth, our poverty incidence hardly changed.  Poverty and inequalities worsen as natural hazards and climate change constantly affect the poor and keep them trapped in a vicious cycle of risk and poverty.


Fourth, cities are at risk.  The rapid growth of our cities, like in Metro Manila, combined with climate change and the urban population explosion, create new stresses for urban settlements and make city dwellers increasingly vulnerable to natural hazards.


Fifth, climate change magnifies disaster risk.  The ‘deadly trio’ of poor urban governance, ecosystems decline, and weak rural livelihood drives disaster risk turbocharged by climate change.  The challenge of adapting to climate extremes gives increased urgency to addressing underlying risk drivers, reducing vulnerability, and strengthening risk governance.  If disaster risks can be reduced, then the magnifying effect of climate change will also be reduced, and adaptation will be facilitated.


Mr. President,


We must not wait for the next natural hazard to strike only to expose these risks. As government officials, we actually have the power to help the country become more resilient. Let me raise five points.


First, we need to conduct an environmental program audit. The government audits the environmental programs mandated by law to identify the implementation barriers and to support the means to strengthen the programs towards meeting desired objectives.


Second, we need to undertake risk-sensitive planning and investment. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the Climate Change Commission should collaborate to support the planning, development, and implementation of the Local Climate Change Action Plans (LCCAP) and Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plans (LDRRMPs) by the local government units (LGUs), as they are linked to local Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs) and local development and investment plans.


Third, we need to strengthen social protection.  Let us examine how the government’s social protection programs, in particular the Conditional Cash Transfer and other poverty reduction-related initiatives, can be scaled up not only to address structural poverty, but also to build the resilience of the poor against the recurring impact of natural hazards.


Fourth, we need to advance economic and business resilience.  We can ensure our economic resilience by reducing disaster risk, let investors be aware of it, and let business investments take into account disaster risk reduction measures. Initiatives could include promoting green infrastructure, such as buildings with roof gardens and rainwater collection facility; risk financing, risk reduction incentives, business continuity planning, among others.


Fifth, we need to promote community resilience.  Mayors and local councils could prioritize resilience as part of their political and sustainable development agenda and make reducing disaster risk their legacy opportunity.  Paying attention to protection will improve environmental, social and economic conditions, including combating the future variables of climate change.  It will also make the communities more prosperous and secure than before.  Initiatives could include making schools, hospitals, and other critical public infrastructure resilient against disasters.


Despite the many calamities that we have experienced as a nation, many might still ask why we should promote resilience.


Resilience is the ability of a system or community to spring back or to bounce forward from a shock or an impact of a hazard, while preserving and restoring its essential basic structures and functions.  It aims to ensure that shocks and stresses do not lead to a long-term downturn in development progress.


As a fundamental development strategy, building resiliencewould help our government sustain the country’s socio-economic gains, make a difference in poverty reduction, and eventually ensure the achievement of sustainable development goals.


As an agenda shared by all concerned with financial, political, disaster, conflict and climate threats to development, advancing resilience promotes unity of purpose and action among various development stakeholders across all sectors.


Resilience is set to define the post-2015 global development agenda as well as the framework for action for disaster risk reduction.


In closing, I wish to stress that disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation must be closely linked to development—the kind of development that does not create new risks and promotes resilient investments.


Poverty breeds disaster vulnerability, where those who have least in life risk life most. Thus, as disasters become more prevalent, the higher is the right of the poor to social protection, and the higher is the duty of government to reduce disaster risk in pursuit of resilient development. Disaster risk reduction is social justice in action.


Tragedies such as Ondoy, Sendong and Yolanda create the context for learning and growing. It is these disasters that make us resilient. It is our shared memory of death, loss and survival that should drive us to build a resilient future.


Thank you, Mr. President.