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This article is published on InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, with the events of 2013 continuing to haunt the nation: a large earthquake and a super typhoon in Visayas, and a standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao.
With disasters set to become “bigger and deadlier,” Sen. Loren Legarda challenged presidential aspirants to reveal their plans in this regard.
“What is your position on climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk reduction and resilience? What have you done in your career or your lifetime for CCA and DRR?”
She asked these questions during a speech at the launch of the Philippine office of the Asia-Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management (A-PAD) in Manila last week.
A-PAD was organized by Japan as a network of private sector groups and nongovernmental organizations in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. Its network will allow the various national offices (or “platforms”) to help each other when disasters strike
“You have not done anything? Be honest and say what you intend to do in the next six years so that we know the way forward,” Legarda continued.
Rene Meily, president of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), added that it would be just a matter of time before the Philippines would be hit by another disaster.
“What are your plans?” Meily said. “Are you going to continue with the system, which has worked pretty well under Undersecretary (Alexander) Pama, or do you have new ideas that you’re going to implement? How will you help those who were hit by disaster recover economically, because many of those who get hit by disasters, especially small businesses, no longer return.”
Legarda also lamented that the country has the best laws, but these have to be implemented by the executive branch effectively. Local government units, civil society organizations, and communities should follow them too, so that they do not remain just ink on paper.
There should be prepositioned evacuation centers in areas which have been subjected to multi-hazard risk assessment, and which are constructed according to building codes, Legarda said.
Government agencies must have potable water, clean portalets, and warm food ahead of time.
LGUs should forcibly evacuate residents in harm’s way and should prevent vulnerable communities and informal settlers from building homes along canals, rivers, and bays. Mangroves should not be destroyed as they serve as natural buffers against storm surges, while coconut trees should be planted as natural buffers against strong winds.
She added that no-build zones should remain as such, so that natural hazards don’t have to become disasters all the time, as no people would be affected in these areas.
“We can’t control the science or the natural hazards, but if we are as intense as nature is in terms of preparation, then the intensity of the adverse effects would lessen,” the lawmaker stressed.
Politicians should shed the dole-out mentality and go beyond giving away canned goods and rice after a disaster.
If not, she said: “Then we will perpetually be set back in our economic development. Then the double-digit growth statistics which we always aspire to have will never happen. We just like to do things the way we knew it then.”
The destruction Filipinos witness after every disaster leaves them no recourse but to act fast, Legarda added.
“We do not build resilience through relief efforts,” she said. “Instead, we have to lessen the need for disaster relief.”
Fewer deaths, injuries
Thankfully, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has made some gains.
According to Undersecretary Alexander Pama, NDRRMC executive director, the number of deaths due to disasters decreased from 294 in 2014 to 126 in 2015. Injuries were fewer as well, from 233 in 2014 to 137 in 2015.
The number of those who went missing went up slightly, however, from 32 in 2014 to 36 in 2015.The NDRRMC was now focusing its work on protecting livelihoods in times of disaster.
“Buhay nga kami, wala namang kabuhayan (We may be alive, but we don’t have anything to live on),” Pama quoted disaster survivors as saying in the past.
He encouraged the private sector to look into activities such as risk financing and insurance, as well as investing in critical infrastructure.
For its part, the PDRF, which is made up of 68 Philippine companies working together to prepare for and respond to disasters, has just opened an e-health center in Tacloban where patients could consult with doctors from the Makati Medical Center through telemedicine.
Through its cluster system, member-companies can respond according to their core competence, such as telecommunications, water and sanitation, power, energy, and early recovery.
For the e-health center, for example, Hewlett-Packard provided the establishment, while Smart Communications supplied the Internet connectivity.
“We have already gone a long way in terms of disaster awareness and preparedness,” Meily said. “We have gone a long way especially in terms of private sector involvement.”
Japan and Australia, in particular, were looking at the PDRF as a model for private sector involvement in their own countries.
PDRF was also building a disaster operations center in Clark, Pampanga, “the only sort in the world which is private-run and founded,” Meily added.
PDRF and the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC) are taking the lead in establishing the A-PAD Philippine office.
A-PAD is already present in Albay, Cebu, and Davao to get the local private sector involved in disaster response and preparedness. Japan will provide funding for its projects.
“People can sleep better at night knowing that A-PAD is there. It’s just starting, but it will help, especially if we’re caught in a crisis,” Meily explained.
A-PAD Chairperson Faisal Djalal, who hails from Indonesia, attended the launch a day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck along Padang Island.
There he addressed an audience that included A-PAD members from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and Japan.
“We have to keep this brotherhood, collaboration and partnership among countries,” he said. “We share the same situation and challenge that we call disaster.”
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