Reducing the risk of disasters
MANILA, Philippines - “Nothing’s gonna hurt you, not while I’m around,” so sweetly sang Makati City Councilor Tosca Camille Puno-Ramos at the closing of the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, recently held in Geneva, Switzerland. It was a song that echoed the sentiments of the 3,500-strong audience of advocates who work to make disasters a thing of the past.
The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) organized the conference. Delegates came from over 170 countries representing national and local governments, intergovernmental agencies, non-government organizations, the private sector, and the academe.
With the tragedies of the Bangladesh factory collapses and the Oklahoma tornado fresh in the minds of the global public, the platform sought to answer the urgent question, “Are communities doing enough to reduce their risks to disasters?”
As a Filipino attending the conference, the question became very personal.
A look outside the window reminds me that the rainy season looms ever so closely, threatening the lives of millions of Filipinos in another ruthless cycle of rain, floods and landslides.
Has the Philippines, the third most-at-risk country to disasters (According to the 2012 World Risk Index), learned enough from the hard lessons of Sendong, the 2012 Habagat, and Pablo to break the cycle of disasters?
A plan for action
The United Nations framework for disaster risk reduction is called the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), a 10-year plan from 2005-2015 to make the world safer from natural hazards.
The HFA has 5 priorities for action:
- Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation.
- Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks, and enhance early warning.
- Use knowledge, innovation, and education to build a culture of safety and resilience.
- Reduce the underlying risk factors.
- Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.
The conference served as a consultation to allow stakeholders to give input on the post-2015 HFA, or the “HFA2.” The strongest messages from the consultation came from groups considered disproportionally affected by disasters: women, children, the elderly and those living with disabilities.
An event called “The Resilient Future We Want” moved many to tears when children gave their testimonials from their experience in disasters.
Danh, an 11-year-old child with disability from Vietnam, recalled his experience during a flood. “Initially, my parents put me on a banana leaf to float to safety on the flood but I was so scared and I said no and then they carried me up to the second floor of a building where I was safe,” he said.
Youth and children’s groups pleaded to be more involved in disaster risk reduction efforts.
Hon Tioulong Saumura, a member of the Cambodian parliament said, “Women know how to organize, innovate and create. The world should start listening to the grassrootswomen to learn.” She urged that the HFA2 should force governments to make more space for women in disaster risk reduction.
Indigenous peoples’ groups urged nations not to underestimate the power of traditional knowledge in reducing disaster risks.
If our country is to break the cycle of disasters, we need to heed the voices of the voiceless people in our society.
Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change say that climate change will make disasters more intense and frequent.
“We need to integrate the management of disaster risk and climate change risk,” emphasized Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN Special Representative for disaster risk reduction.
Philippine laws on climate change and disaster risk reduction are lauded as some of the best in the world. While the country has made significant progress, it needs to continually strengthen the pillars of prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery to survive the current and the future hazards.
Some key messages from the consultation that could help reduce the risks in the Philippines include the following:
Improve assessment of risk to target the root causes of disasters.
Engage communities to achieve results, giving space for the engagement of women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, indigenous and grassroots groups.
Strengthen risk governance at all levels, but lead at the local level, as local government units are at the forefront of disaster risk reduction.
Recognize the private sector as actor and partner.
Strengthen scientific and technical support.
Integrate disaster risk reduction with climate change adaptation and sustainable development goals.
Stories of resilience
The Philippines, while being most at risk, is also a home to many stories of resilience and of hope.
This year, several Filipino groups were nominated for the prestigious Sasakawa Award, which honors champions in disaster risk reduction. These included SM Prime Holdings Inc, the municipality of Saint Bernard in Leyte, Butuan City, and the Senate Committee on Climate Change. Saint Bernard received a letter of merit for its early warning system for floods.
As the first hints of the monsoon season arrive, the country can look for inspiration and guidance from these champions. The stories told in the conference also remind us that the real work begins on the ground with the voiceless and the most vulnerable.
Let us make champions out of all communities in our country, as resilient nations are built on resilient communities.- Rappler.com
Monica Oritz is a research associate at the Manila Observatory, a private research institution that aims to provide science for a sustainable future. You can contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.