On disaster resilience

Published August 4, 2019, 12:29 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Senator Sonny Angara
Senator Sonny Angara

Recently, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) sent out a 4 a.m. emergency text alert signaling the start of the annual earthquake drill of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).  Some were irked at the early alert. Others doused the vexation with messages of thanks and support, saying that earthquakes—or any emergency or natural disaster for that matter—do not provide advance notice.

Unbeknownst to many at the time, around 15 minutes after the emergency text alert was sent, the first of many earthquakes shook the remote province of Batanes which eventually claimed nine lives, injured more than dozens of individuals, and affected thousands. Thankfully, the authorities—unfazed by the perils of countless aftershocks—responded rapidly to the needs of our kababayans in the northernmost province.

While there was sufficient response to the Batanes quake, the tremors only highlight several gaps in our current disaster response system. For instance, a localized emergency text system containing area-specific information—which further refines the implementation of the existing Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act (RA 10639)—could have been life-saving for Batanes residents.

Another is the need for a national fleet of disaster response ships, which are properly equipped for transporting goods and rescue personnel throughout the archipelago when roads and bridges are inaccessible.

Clearest is the imperative for a dedicated state institution that would craft and implement plans and programs on disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and response—the very reason we filed Senate Bill No. 331, a measure creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).

The proposed department upgrades the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) network established via Republic Act No. 10121, the Philippine DRRM Act.  In place of the existing interagency council composed of various agencies with concurrent functions, the DDR will be comprised of officials and government workers whose sole focus will be DRRM.

The DDR will be mandated to abide by internationally accepted standards for recovery and, more importantly, to undertake speedy procurement of goods, services, and materials for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. A National Disaster Operations Center (NDOC) will be created within a year from the proposed law’s enactment and it will serve as the DDR’s nucleus to manage and respond to disasters nationwide.

In addition, a Disaster Research and Training Institute (DRTI) shall house the Integrated Disaster Resilience Information System (IDRIS)—the main database for risk and geo-hazard data.

Under the measure, a Multi-Stakeholders Convergence Unit shall formulate policies to ensure the continuity of business and government services during calamity and investment programs for disaster affected areas.

As the US National Academies of Sciences put it—disaster resilience should be a “national imperative.” This is particularly true for the Philippines considering that according to the European Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), natural disasters between 1911 and 2018 have cost the Philippines up to US$26 billion or P1.3 trillion in damage to property. Clearly, if we promote a culture of resilience, not only would we be saving lives—we would be preventing any further losses to our economy.

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI) Program on Resilient Communities defined resilience as a “long term concept that covers the full disaster continuum,” including the ability of future generations to adapt. Moreover, preparedness is a crucial aspect that has been defined as “steps that are taken by government, communities, and individuals to mitigate the impact of hazards.”

However, HHI’s Perceptions of Disaster Resilience and Preparedness in the Philippines reported that only a third of Filipinos are “only slightly prepared or not at all prepared to respond to a disaster in the near future.”

No longer should disaster resilience be an afterthought—a topic discussed only among select few, or one that is seasonal. Instead, it should continuously be part of the national agenda. A consciousness about disaster preparedness must be instilled into the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. Hence, the State must double down on improving our institutions’ capabilities and the peoples’ readiness to lessen vulnerability and to hasten recovery from these dangers. (30)

Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.  He recently won another term in the Senate.