Revisiting the Lessons of Ondoy

September 26, 2011

Mr. President,
I stand here today, two years since one of the most devastating typhoons unleashed its wrath in our country, to renew my call for the administration to translate “transformational leadership” into measurable gains in protecting people’s lives and livelihoods and building our resilience as a nation against the worsening state of disaster and climate risks.
We already know the risks.
Tropical storm Pedring entered the Philippines exactly two years after three successive tropical cyclones – Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi – inflicted damages to the country, as if examining if we have sincerely learned our painful lessons from these disasters.
But have we really learned enough?
The threat of strong typhoons constantly brings back the fears of another Ondoy or Pepeng, that left nearly a thousand people killed, about two million families affected and a staggering 4.4 billion US dollars in total damage, or the equivalent of 2.7 percent of the country’s GDP in 2009 lost in an instant.
Mr. President,
With these overwhelming figures as a backdrop, do we now have the political will to make the right choice for our people and their future? Has our public investment increased our country’s stock of development assets or has it instead increased the stock of risks and liabilities? How can we invest more today for a safer tomorrow?
With each disaster, money from the government coffers is diverted to relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Apart from the 4.4 billion US dollars we lost to Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi, government money that ought to have been spent on supporting rural livelihoods, on improving primary education, and extending better healthcare service for women and children – these billions are used to fund the distribution of relief goods to evacuees, in re-constructing expensive infrastructure from the ground-up, and in helping the afflicted communities recover, from one disaster after another.
Mr. President,
It is imperative for the administration and to us, legislators, to submit to the discipline of disaster and climate risk-sensitive development planning. The national government budget for 2012 must anticipate and can withstand the impacts and economic stress brought about by climate change – stronger typhoons, heavier rains, prolonged droughts and other extreme weather events.
The Climate Change Act of 2009 and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 paved the way to climate resilience. And as we seek to enhance the climate law with a complementing policy on climate finance through the People’s Survival Fund bill, I hope that the administration will soon champion successes in the implementation of these measures. Another significant step forward is for the President to assume his role as the Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission and convene it immediately for the approval of the National Climate Change Action Plan.
Mr. President,
As a nation considered to be the third most vulnerable to disaster risks and natural hazards[1], reducing disaster risk therefore not only makes good economic sense but secures our children’s future. And even as we undertake projects for improved disaster preparedness, there is no substitute for national and local government budget that are climate change-adaptive.
Finally, as we remember the scars Ondoy left on our memories, let us renew our moral responsibility to our people and our commitment to good governance, towards a more resilient nation.
Thank you, Mr. President.
[1] The World Risk Index 2011, developed by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) in Germany, considers the Philippines as the third most vulnerable to disaster risks and natural hazards among the 173 countries included in its study. Vanuatu and Tonga placed first and second while the Solomon Islands placed fourth on the index, followed by Guatemala, Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, Costa Rica, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Brunei Darussalam, and Afghanistan.