Over the past 20 years, disasters due to natural hazards have affected 4.4 billion people, claimed 1.3 million lives and caused $2 trillion in economic losses according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The impact of disasters, however, has been harder on some sectors.
Older persons, for example, have been among those who have suffered disproportionately from disasters. As reported by UNISDR, 75% of those killed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were over 60 even if they made up just 15% of the population in New Orleans. The same is true in Japan, where 56% of those who died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 were 65 and over, despite comprising just 23% of the population.
When Typhoon Haiyan hit 9 out of the 17 administration regions in the Philippines last year, one of the immediate concerns of organizations like HelpAge International and the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE) was how to quickly come to the aid of older people. Older persons are usually too frail to reach aid centers, with pre-existing health conditions potentially aggravating their physical limitations (e.g. mobility, vision, hearing, etc.).
In developing countries like the Philippines, their vulnerability may be exacerbated by insufficient social safety nets to help them cope with the disruption of services and goods in times of emergencies. “The older person is often invisible in our communities until they show up in the mortality figures after a disaster event,” said Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, in a joint press release issues by the UNISDR and HelpAge.
International Day for Disaster Reduction
It is in recognition of this need that this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction, celebrated every October 13th, focuses on the needs and role of the ageing population in disaster risk management. This is a fitting conclusion to UNISDR’s Step-up Campaign which started in 2011 to drum up awareness and support for marginalized sectors that are highly vulnerable to disaster risks (e.g., women, people with disabilities, elderly, and children).
The focus on disadvantaged sectors is also very timely as the world turns its attention towards crafting the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ends next year. Incidentally, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (HFA), the global framework for DRR adopted by 168 UN Member States at the 2005 World Conference for Disaster Reduction held in Hyogo, Japan, will also end in 2015.
The HFA specifically outlines five priority areas for action up to 2015. These are (1) ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation; (b) identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning; (3) use knowledge, innovation, and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels; (4) reduce the underlying causes of risk including especially among vulnerable sectors; and (5) strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.
From MDGs to SDGs
Oxfam recently released its recommendations for the post-2015 agenda to replace the MDGs, the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Oxfam’s briefing paper, titled “Making it Happen: Oxfam’s proposals for a post-2015 framework,” proposed eleven goals with clear and ambitious targets tackling climate change and inequality.
To address inequality, Oxfam recommended goals to eradicate extreme economic inequality, eradicate extreme poverty, achieve gender equality and realize women’s rights, and achieve universal health coverage and education through strong public services.
To combat climate change, Oxfam outlined dedicated goals on climate change and energy, food and hunger, water, and risk, as well as integrating targets on climate throughout the framework. These measures can help ensure development consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius.
Oxfam’s proposed ninth goal, “Reduce Global Risks to Sustainable Development by 2015,” specifically talks about the risks of disasters and the uncertainty that climate change brings. As indicated in the 2014 World Development Report, managing risks responsibly and effectively can save lives, avert economic damages, prevent development setbacks and create new opportunities. Thus, a stand-alone goal on reducing global risks to disasters should aim to lessen the vulnerability of marginalized groups—women, children, older persons and PWDS—by involving them in DRM planning, implementation and evaluation.
Beyond 2015: HFA 2.0
Last June, over 3,000 delegates all over the region gathered for the Sixth Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) in Bangkok, Thailand, to shape future efforts to build more resilient communities in the region. The AMCDRR issued the Bangkok Declaration which called for, inter alia, “increased funding for disaster risk reduction projects, public-private partnership in disaster mitigation and a shift from response-oriented actions to risk-informed investments as part of the business process; transparency in the accounting of disaster relief funds; and strengthening the role of local governments as first responders, as well as other sectors like women, children and persons with disabilities, in DRR planning and management.”
The so-called HFA 2, the successor to the current global framework for DRM, offers an opportunity for countries to review disaster risk reduction investments and strengthen local government and communities’ role in reducing risks for disasters. Unless risk reduction measures include the requirements of the poorest and the most vulnerable, DRR will always fall short as a developmental intervention.
Five months away from the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to be held in Sendai, Japan next year, it is hoped that HFA 2 will strengthen the resilience of marginalized and highly vulnerable sectors against disasters.
After Yolanda, then what?
Back home, our experience with Typhoon Yolanda has demonstrated the disproportionate impacts of disasters on the different strata of Philippine society. The poor and the marginalized, especially older persons, suffered the most, and this has never been more glaring than in Eastern Visayas, the country’s third poorest region with the highest income inequality.
In many areas, little investments in agriculture and weak implementation of agrarian reform have pushed farmers and fisherfolks deeper into the poverty trap. This chronic and systemic nature of poverty and inequality has compounded people’s vulnerabilities to disasters, as coping mechanisms are put into test in the absence of sufficient social services and security as safety nets.
As we move forward, national and local governments must take an inclusive, rights-based approach in tackling poverty and inequality by integrating climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management measures in the country’s sustainable development. Vulnerable groups such as women, elderly, children and PWDs must be included in the processes of risk-proofing local development plans and in mainstreaming disaster risks, including the impacts of climate change, in the day-to-day operations of relevant government agencies.
For instance, HelpAge noted in a recent publication that there are real opportunities for older persons to get involved in risk assessment, early warning systems, stockpiling, evacuation planning, training of responders, protection and psychosocial response, and health and nutrition planning. There are also means by which the underlying economic, social, environmental, and/or physical causes of older people’s vulnerability such as livelihoods, climate-smart agriculture, micro- credit and insurance, and social protection.
Typhoon Yolanda has opened a policy window to review the strengths and weaknesses of our current DRM system. The scheduled sunset review next year must look at the new level of resilience brought about by Yolanda and the recent disasters that hit the country in the last few years. It is also an opportune time to introduce changes in policy implementation toward inclusive disaster risk reduction where the needs of highly vulnerable sectors are taken into account.
Humanitarian organizations like Oxfam have always emphasized that preparedness is key to building resilience in the community. Since Ondoy’s onslaught in 2009, selected LGUs from the provinces of Rizal and Laguna have been actively working with communities through the conduct of preparedness training workshops, drafting of contingency plans, setting up of early warning systems, and beefing up of rescue and relief provisions, among others. These inclusive community-based initiatives have proven to be effective in reducing the impacts of typhoon-enhanced monsoon rains on certain localities in the past few years.
At the national level, the government needs to continue engaging various stakeholders, including international organizations, NGOs and civil society networks, academic and research institutions, and the private sector, to introduce inclusive, well-meaning and long-term reforms in the Philippines’ overall DRM framework. National economic growth will be for naught if disasters continue to destroy hard-earned infrastructure and properties, disrupt livelihoods, businesses, and services, and ultimately devastate the social fabric of our communities.
In a country where poverty and vulnerability are hardly separable, it is of paramount importance that the government anchors its sustainable development agenda on inclusive resilience, one that incorporates the specific concerns and contributions of marginalized and at-risk sectors into the different aspects of managing disaster risks. Resilience is an empty mantra if it only means “bouncing back” from a disastrous event without truly empowering those in the margins to “bounce forward.” – Rappler.com
Dr. Kristoffer Berse is an Assistant Professor at the University of the Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG). Jed Alegado is Oxfam’s Media & Communications Officer in the Philippines. He holds a masters degree in Public Management from the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG).
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