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New Administration, New Future: Reducing Disaster and Risk in the Philippines

Written by Maria Ela L. Atienza

When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte officially assumed office last week, disaster preparedness was the one of the issues he addressed during the first official Cabinet meeting of his administration. The President talked about his experience when he brought a rescue team from Davao to Tacloban in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. Based on this experience, the President cited the need to pre-position equipment in disaster-prone areas to enable the government to provide aid to affected residents.

This development is a promising sign that the new administration will look closely into improving disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) in a country that is prone to natural and human-made disasters. The new government will definitely consult experts and practitioners in the field of DRRM to improve the existing framework and to prevent high loss of lives and property and minimize vulnerabilities of people and communities in future calamities. These experts and practitioners will probably advise the administration to focus not just on relief and rehabilitation but more importantly, on disaster risk reduction. However, the Duterte administration could also spend some time listening to what young people think about DRRM and other issues facing the country. After all, the Philippines has a large young population. The overall youth literacy rate is about 97% and the country’s median age is 24.4 years.     

In April 2016, the University of the Philippines (UP) – Diliman’s Department of Political Science and the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines sponsored two seminar-workshops entitled ‘The Youths’ Agenda for the Next Philippine Administration”. The first workshop attended by college students in Metro Manila was held on April 4 in UP Diliman and the second workshop attended by college students in the province of Albay was held on April 19 in Tabaco City. The participants were of course not representative of the entire youth population of the Philippines but the students were able to discuss the issues and some suggested actions that the new administration and other sectors can take to address more adequately some of the important challenges to the Philippines, including disasters. The youth participants are also not strangers to calamities. The Metro Manila participants are used to wading through floods on their way to and from their schools during rainy season and are now constantly bombarded by announcements regarding earthquake drills earthquake drill and safety reminders in the event of any calamity. Many of them came from provinces that experience first-hand typhoons and other disasters. In the case of the college students of Albay, their province is in the Bicol region, one of the most calamity-prone regions in the country. Albay is also home to the beautiful but dangerous Mayon Volcano. However, in recent years, Albay province is getting accolades for its DRRM programs.

Many of the young people who participated in the workshop-seminars understand that there should be more emphasis placed on disaster risk reduction instead of just disaster management. Equipment and budget for disaster response, recovery and aid can be very costly because calamities happen repeatedly; however, disaster risk management is more comprehensive because it is aimed at preventing the creation of more risks and reducing existing levels of risks. This also means prioritizing the sectors most at risk, i.e. the poor and vulnerable communities. They are also aware that aside from being geographically prone to natural hazards, the Philippines is one of the countries that are most affected by extreme weather events. Its vulnerability is increasing due to the threats of climate change. The college students also learned that there are existing national laws on climate change and disaster risk reduction which provide a framework for action at all levels. These include the DRRM Act of 2010, the Urban Development and Housing Act 1992, the Renewal Energy Act 2008 and the National Climate Change Act 2009. The country is also signatory to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction , the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Young people are aware that there are challenges that must be addressed in order to put into practice all these frameworks. First, there is still plenty of work to be done at the level of public information so that people at all levels and walks of life understand disasters and calamities, safety procedures, agencies responsible, and what they themselves can do in terms of environmental protection, disaster risk reduction, and emergency response. Second, while there are local governments that have been cited for good DRRM programs, there are still plenty of local governments that are not yet investing in DRRM. Appropriate resources should be allocated both by national and local governments in DRRM. In particular, the Local DRRM Fund and DRRM Councils mandated by the DRRM Act should be set up and functional. In addition, local governments should carefully craft and implement seriously appropriate environmental and urban/rural land use plans. Third, while governance frameworks for DRRM are present, the usual problem is that agencies at different levels do not coordinate properly and in most cases, political differences and alliances prevent national and local officials to work together to address problems. This should not be the case.

Participants in the youth agenda seminar-workshops suggested some concrete actions. Planning at all levels should be participatory so that the actual needs of communities and sectors are appropriately funded. DRRM should be incorporated in elementary and high school education, something that the new K-12 curriculum has actually incorporated but will need monitoring. In areas where there are relocation sites, there should be sufficient livelihood opportunities in the area so that they do not leave these areas and go to risky places vulnerable to calamities in their search for livelihood. Renewable energy like solar power as well as recycling practices should be promoted in communities.

Aside from constantly monitoring and reminding various agencies and levels of government of their responsibilities in DRRM, the students are also aware that they themselves have a role to play in the area of DRRM. For instance, students in engineering and the sciences understand that they should use their knowledge to develop new but affordable technologies for sustainable, resilient and safe habitats and communities. Students from different disciplines also feel that their school curricula can actually incorporate more community immersion projects where they can help vulnerable communities in identifying problems as well as crafting and implementing their own DRRM plans. They also acknowledge that when they become experts themselves, they have a duty to return and help their communities in disaster risk mitigation.

These ideas from a small group of young people are valuable and should be heard by public officials and agencies. The government and other stakeholders in DRRM should harness the ideas, support and energy of the youth who are poised to join the working population in the near future. With the right incentives, they can channel their skills and dedication to public service.

Maria Ela L. Atienza is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She is Co-Investigator of the ESRC/DFID funded project ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. You can follow this project on Facebook as Project_Yolanda and Twitter @Project_Yolanda. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.

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