Symposium for the International Day for Disaster Reduction and ASEAN Day for Disaster Management

October 29, 2014

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Symposium for the International Day for Disaster Reduction
and ASEAN Day for Disaster Management
29 October 2014 – Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City

Future communities in the Philippines will vastly differ from the ones we live in today. As we witness the 21st century unfold, our nation faces a new set of technological, socioeconomic and global challenges that are more complex than any of us have ever experienced in our shared history. They dramatically alter the way we live in our communities, and at stake is the quality of life, not only of ours, but of our progeny.

In a survey conducted by the Nielsen Company and the Oxford University Institute of Climate Change in late 2009, the Philippines registered the highest level of concern for climate change among 54 countries surveyed. Seventy eight percent (78%) of Filipino respondents said they were very concerned about climate change.

Five years hence, that concern is no longer an abstract understanding of climate change. Over the past years, our people have experienced climate change and its worst impacts, with thousands of lives and properties lost. Today, we confront climate change as one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of our time.

The World Bank warns that a 4-degree Celsius global temperature would cause flooding in many coastal cities; dry regions are expected to become drier while wet regions will be wetter; there will be extreme heat waves, water scarcity, stronger tropical cyclones, and loss of biodiversity.

There is no more fitting time to say that reducing disaster risk and climate-proofing our livelihood and development gains and goals have become a moral imperative for governments and a social responsibility for all than now—when having less in life means losing life.

Every time a disaster strikes and devastates our communities, we realize the risks and the challenges. We seek for solutions, we seek the opinion of experts; but the greater challenge is heeding the advice and taking the necessary action.

Until we have taken it upon ourselves that the key to climate change adaptation and mitigation lies in each and every individual’s effort to be part of the solution, then the greatest challenge we will have to fight to combat the warming climate and its effects is our own indifference.

Congress has done its crucial work: New laws on disaster risk reduction and climate change, which the United Nations has hailed as model legislation, now prevail. And the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation into our development processes is now a national policy.

Yet much remains to be done to realize the benefits these laws ought to bring, especially to the poor and the vulnerable who are most in need of help and protection against disasters and most deserving of participation in resilience building.

In the past years, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has been highlighting the needs and strengths of various members of society. In 2013, the focus was on persons with disabilities (PWDs). For this year, the vulnerability and strengths of the elderly were highlighted.

Persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected by disasters. A survey by the UNISDR among persons with disabilities revealed that, if a disaster occurs, 80% said they would be unable to evacuate immediately without difficulty, while six percent said they would not be able to evacuate at all.

Moreover, 71% of the respondents said they do not have any personal disaster protection plan; only 31% always have someone to help them evacuate, while 13% never have anyone to help them.

Meanwhile, older persons, or people aged 60 years and above, also suffer disproportionately from disasters. Seventy five percent (75%) of those killed by Hurricane Katrina in the United States were over 60, but they comprise 15% of the population in New Orleans. During the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, 56% of those who died were 65 years old and above, but they comprise only 23% of the population.

Even without these statistics, we know that persons with disabilities and older persons are at greater risk in times of disasters and have special needs that must be addressed. In addressing their vulnerability, we must acknowledge their strengths and capability to be part of disaster management planning.

Our PWDs are twice more likely to lose their lives or be injured than any other person, but their disability does not mean inability. Actually, they can and should be active partners in making communities safer and more resilient.

In the Philippines, the organization Handicap International helps local governments promote disaster risk management that is disability-inclusive. It has helped communities like Barangay Pagsangahan in San Miguel, Catanduanes, where barangay officials encourage persons with disabilities to take part in disaster preparedness programs. It also helped build an evacuation center that is accessible to persons with disabilities. We wish to see more of these good practices at the community level.

Meanwhile, the elderly can also make positive contributions to disaster risk reduction and management. We must tap their knowledge and experience. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that we seek the help of older people in providing vital information on local risks to health since they are familiar with local history, geography and culture. They can also be sought for advice on response and recovery efforts, owing to their experience and wisdom.

As our nation strives for equitable socio-economic development amid many recurring calamities, it is essential that we preserve our development gains. All sectors of our society must come together now and respond as one against disaster risk.

Building resilience should be everybody’s attitude. With this kind of mindset, we can promote the scaling up of existing government programs to rectify the social and economic structures that breed disaster risk and trap the poor and vulnerable citizens in the vicious cycle of risk and poverty.

The road towards resilience may be tough, but with the right attitude and a strong resolve, we will be able to weather the many challenges of our fast changing environment.

Thank you.