The Citizen’s Disaster Response Center urges the passage of the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Bill. But even without this law, trainings in disaster mitigation should be conducted down to the barangay level, it says.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Several studies have established that developing countries are exposed to higher risks as a result of climate change. These should move the Philippine government to prioritize disaster risk mitigation management. But, as what typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng had shown, the country remains stuck in the old framework of responding only when the disaster has already struck.
Nothing illustrates this lack of sound disaster management than the fate of the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Bill, which has been pending in Congress in the past nine years.
“There were already so many natural disasters that the country went through, but still it was not passed into law,” said Carlos Padolina, deputy director of Citizen’s Disaster Response Center, an NGO. “But I hope it can pass this time considering the damage that (Ondoy and Pepeng have) caused,” he said.
In a study titled “Climate Change and the Future Impacts of Storm-Surge Disasters in Developing Countries,” the World Bank said sea level is expected to rise by one meter this century. And as climate change creates warmer oceans, heightened storm surges would surely damage coastal zones and nearby low-lying areas, it said. Large storms, like Ondoy and Pepeng, can create more destruction as they move inland. Hurricanes and cyclones have even been documented in places where they have never been before.
The mere geographical location of the Philippines makes it prone to typhoons and cyclones, an average of 20 typhoons every year. Given this, Padolina told Bulatlat, he could not imagine how the Philippine government can effectively respond to the effects of climate change.
“While Pagasa regularly updates the public with news regarding typhoons on national television, there is still a need to implement warning systems in the barangays,” Padolina said.
The much-vaunted calamity fund of the national government is only two percent of its total expenditure. “It is so small that you cannot almost see it in a bar graph as compared to the budget allocated to other government offices and departments,” Padolina said. Together with the calamity fund of the local government, Padolina said such fund would not be able to meet the P15 billion needed for the rehabilitation of the country in the wake of Pepeng and Ondoy.
Padolina said there is a need to institute a policy that can turn a government’s emergency disaster response to “proactive disaster risk mitigation.”
Padolina said one of the reasons the DRRM remains a bill is the amount of money needed to implement the law. The provisions of the bill stipulated that the National Disaster Coordinating Council should be abolished while the Office of Civil Defense, currently under the Department of National Defense, be turned into an independent national office with counterparts in the local government unit.
The proposed new Office of Civil Defense would function even without a disaster. Padolina said that it would be in charge of giving trainings to the barangay level when it comes to disaster preparedness and mitigation of risks.
But for a reactive government to take the challenge of a proactive law would cost money. In the study, not only did Manila was identified as one of the cities with the highest number of people who would be affected by the storm surge — it topped the list. Taguig and Caloocan were also included. Despite this, Padolina said, “our cities do not have clear urban planning. We need to address the problem of the sewage system.”
He added that even projects of the government should be monitored while some might even be stopped. “If you have mining activities in the mountains, no matter how much you would train the people with disaster preparedness and management, they would still be prone to landslides,” Padolina said. “There is no exact solution to the problem,” he said. “Everything is related.”
“The issue of disaster is also an issue of vulnerabilty,” Padolina added. “Disasters exist when there are communities who are vulnerable and poor.”
To make the communities less vulnerable, Padolina said that it is important to empower them through trainings. These trainings will prepare the community on what to expect during a calamity, when is the right time to evacuate and where to go. Aside from this, they are also given practical tips on what to do during and after the calamity.
All these are supposedly the task of the Office of Civil Defense should the DRRM bill be passed. But despite absence of the law, some nongovernment organizations like CDRC have already initiated these trainings.
Padolina said they held it in areas that are prone to natural disasters like the Bicol region. The program does not only include the actual training and community drill but it also includes a “local disaster risk reduction council” that would guide the people during the actual calamity. Padolina pointed out that during typhoon Reming in 2007, the communities where the CDRC held their trainings, despite losing some of their belongings, had zero casualty.
“But despite its success, there is still a need to pass the DDRM bill to ensure that the government is dedicated to the project,” Padolina said. (Bulatlat.com)