Thursday, December 5, 2013

Five Steps to Prevent Disasters and Save Lives

MANILA-Twenty-five typhoons have already visited the country this year, with the strongest, Typhoon Yolanda, revealing the gravity of disaster risk that Philippine communities are facing.

Senator Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committees on Climate Change and Environment and Natural Resources, said that Yolanda is the new benchmark for disaster prevention and preparedness, stressing that “like all natural hazards, Yolanda was inevitable but its disastrous effects could have been prevented or mitigated if we were more prepared.”

As UN Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia-Pacific, Legarda shares wise pointers on making communities resilient, drawn in five steps to save lives and prevent massive destruction of property.

1. Manage risks rather than manage disasters

In the lingo of disaster reduction experts, this is simply called “risk governance.” Local government units (LGUs) must determine if certain risks are prevalent in a community making it vulnerable to the effects of a landslide, flooding, tsunami, storm surge or earthquake.

Local disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) plans must be crafted to address these threats and funds should be sufficiently allocated to effectively carry out these plans.

The World Bank estimates that for every dollar invested in disaster reduction measures saves seven to ten dollars in losses from natural disasters.

A good example is Barangay Cunsad in the Municipality of Alimodian, Province of Iloilo. In July 2012, when the heavy rains of Typhoon Gener triggered major landslides in Cunsad, they recorded zero casualty. This is because, when the natural signs of impending landslide showed up in the populated barangay of Cunsad, the municipal government immediately sought the help of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for risk assessment and heeded the advice of geologists to relocate the residents.

2. Make every Filipino 'disaster-literate'

Sound policies and political will to implement do not complete the formula for effective disaster prevention because there needs to be cooperation from the public. Early and mandatory evacuation would be useless if the people do not understand the need for such efforts.

Raising public awareness should be made to resonate loudly and as far deep into the communities as possible. If some of our people do not yet see how the issues could affect them, still it is our responsibility to draw them in. The government can conduct training for building the resilience of families covered by the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, together with the DSWD and the League of Barangays.

During the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda, all 500 houses in the island of Tulang Diyot (Municipality of San Francisco, Cebu Province) were destroyed but the entire population was saved because of prompt evacuation led by former Mayor of San Francisco, Cebu Province, Alfredo Arquillano, a UNISDR Champion. Arquillano said that “when it was clear how bad the typhoon would be, we decided to evacuate all 1,000 people. Because we’ve done so much work on disaster risk everyone fully understood the need to move to safety.”

3. Let the science work for you

Adequately preparing for a disaster means knowing it fully well and the dangers it brings. Having experts gather and validate scientific data allows the accurate prediction of events, which could then be matched with the best practical solutions. When and where a typhoon will strike, and how, are critical knowledge that will allow the community to timely seek safer ground and fully protect their homes and properties.

With high reliability of disaster data, it is expected that the private sector will be more confident to enter into risk financing schemes without fear of massive losses.

4. Protect the environment

Building on good risk reduction practices means going back to the very basics: protecting our ecosystems and natural buffers such as mangrove forests to mitigate floods, storm surges and other hazards.

Our environment and its ecosystem support human life and provide the basic materials for our economy, such as food, fuel and clean water. The ecosystem also sequesters carbon emissions, regulates erosion and landslides, and reduces floods.

In Montalban, Rizal, a group of women farmers started to practice agroforestry to adapt to the prolonged wet season; while in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, a group of women fisherfolk reforested over a hundred hectares of mangrove areas to protect their settlements from storm surges and secure additional source of food for their families.

5.  Preparation is half the battle won

While disaster prevention should be the greater focus of our efforts, response preparedness is likewise important to prevent further casualties.

Contingency plans are crucial in times of disasters. Communities must draw and test regularly their response plan way ahead of any disaster event and improve constantly on early warning systems and emergency management capacities.

LGUs must have the political will to implement forced evacuation when called for.  Shelters for evacuees should be well designed, built strong, and prepared ahead of time with emergency supplies of food, water, medicine, shelter, and toiletries, while government agencies are ready to augment the basic needs of evacuees.

Local disaster and risk reduction management officers should be alert. Quick communication, particularly real-time updates, is also vital in ensuring effective disaster response with first responders and search and rescue teams ready for dispatch anytime.

A good example is the Purok System in the Municipality of San Francisco, Camotes Island, Cebu Province, which won the 2011 UN Sasakawa Award for Disaster Reduction. The Purok System allows the immediate self-organization within villages and focuses on addressing the vulnerability of every barangay in the municipality by mobilizing local resources in creating local and practical solutions based on the unique needs of every community.

For Legarda, these five steps are achievable with smooth coordination among agencies of government, all sectors of society, and the citizens.

“The key is to work together, as one community, as one nation. We must rebuild communities aware of the lessons of Yolanda, Sendong, Pablo, the Bohol quake and all other major disasters that have brought us to our feet. We must not rebuild the risks. We must rebuild stronger, wiser and smarter,” said Legarda.

Drilon eyes US practice as model for country’s disaster response

MANILA-Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said today that the country’s experience during the past disastrous events should pave the way for needed reforms in the country’s disaster response ability, before the next calamity on the scale of super typhoon “Yolanda” hits the country once more.

Drilon voiced out his proposals during today’s joint press conference, hosted during the courtesy call made by the new United States Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

The US envoy had earlier talked with Drilon regarding future developments and issues on Philippine security and foreign policy.    

Drilon emphasized that government should improve its capability to prepare for and handle the threat of large-scale natural and man-made calamities. 

“The country would do well to look at international practices, especially by advanced countries like the United States regarding disaster preparedness, coordination and response to beef up its own disaster strategy, which was extremely challenged and found wanting during the rampage of  super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan),” said Drilon.

“We’re looking at that to see the best practices we can adopt here so we’ll be able to respond effectively to disasters that will visit us in the future. No question about that,” he stressed. 

Drilon notes the developments and advances made by the United States with its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a federal agency which was responsible for the country’s response when its southern parts were hit by Hurricane Katrina, and when Hurricane Sandy struck the US eastern seaboard.

“I understand a lot of improvements were adopted by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina, which definitely helped during Hurricance Sandy.  We can learn from the bureaucratic management at the federal level of the US government on how they respond to disasters,” Drilon explained.

Drilon then suggested that a similar approach could be taken with the Philippines, and that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), currently the country’s main disaster strategy body, could be revamped into a permanent and completely independent government entity.

“In our case, we still have an ad hoc council that handles long-term relief and rehabilitation. We should look at the possibility of having a permanent government structure instead of what we have today, to make it more bureaucratically dynamic,” he said.       

Still, Drilon emphasized that executive initiatives to improve coordination of the country’s response to damages from calamities are already ongoing, even as legislative proposals are “still under thorough discussion.”

“Because of the current lack of a permanent structure, the President found the need to appoint a rehabilitation czar in the person of former Senator Lacson,” Drilon noted.

During the courtesy call, the Senate President also thanked Ambassador Goldberg and the US government, for “the quick and valuable assistance that the US extended to the Philippines, by committing nearly $52 million worth of assistance on the relief operations for recent calamities.”  

Senate Labor Committee tackles OFW welfare bills in Overseas Filipinos Month

MANILA-Coinciding with the observance of the Overseas Filipinos Month, the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development tackled various legislative measures promoting the welfare of migrant workers.
Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, presided last Tuesday the committee hearing which discussed separate pending bills seeking to create a charter of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and Magna Carta for Seafarers.
The body took up the proposed Magna Carta for Seafarers which will give flesh to the minimum labor standards on employment, recruitment and job placement of seafarers, and welfare mechanisms set forth by the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006. It also provides compulsory benefits and defines fundamental rights of the sea-based workers.
The so-called “Seafarers’ Bill of Rights” is one of Sen. Estrada’s priority measures for the 16th Congress and is included in the list of twelve priority measures identified by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
“With Filipino seafarers comprising more than a quarter of the 1.2 million seafarers around the globe, the enactment of this bill is indeed imperative. I really hope we can pass this bill which guarantees our seafarers their right to humane working conditions and just compensation at the soonest time possible,” Sen. Estrada said in his opening statement.
The stakeholders, including the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, United Filipino Seafarers, Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines, expressed full support to the proposed legislation. Nonetheless, a technical working group meeting is scheduled on Tuesday, December 10.
The Labor Committee also discussed the proposed OWWA Charter, which shall lay the formal legislative foundation for the defined functions and powers of the OWWA.
Sen. Estrada noted that the OWWA is a creation of different issuances of the executive over the years.
Meanwhile, the Migrant Workers Act, as amended, provides that the OWWA shall undertake the repatriation of workers in cases of war, epidemic, disasters or calamities, among others. It shall likewise formulate and implement welfare programs for overseas Filipino workers and their families while they are abroad and upon their return.
“As said by Administrator Carmelita Dimzon during the hearing, ‘What are we really? The Commission on Audit applies the same auditing rules for government-owned and –controlled corporations and financial institutions, while we treat our office as a national government agency.’ It appears that there is confusion on what OWWA is and the proposed charter seeks to remedy this situation,” Jinggoy noted.
Sen. Estrada added that this problem manifests on sluggish response by the agency on rescuing, repatriating and assisting distressed and runaway overseas Filipino workers.
Under Senate Bill 24, the proposed OWWA Act of 2013 principally authored by Sen. Estrada, defines the nature, scope and functions of OWWA; membership, contribution and collection; OWWA board of trustees, secretariat and other personnel; guiding principles on the benefits and services for OFWs; and fiscal management, budget policy and administration of its funds.
The country is observing the Overseas Filipinos Month, following the declaration made by the late President Cory Aquino through Proclamation 276. The decree which declares the month of December as Overseas Filipinos Month recognizes and honors overseas Filipinos who “contribute to building up the Philippine economy through their taxes and remittances.”


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