Philippines senator wants more disaster preparedness | Asia Pacific

Philippines senator wants more disaster preparedness

Philippines senator wants more disaster preparedness

Updated 29 February 2012, 10:10 AEDT

A Philippine senator says the scale of devastation wreaked by last month's tropical storm could have been reduced if the government had devoted more funds to risk reduction.

Senator Loren Legarda is urging President Aquino to commit to creating a disaster-resilient nation by increasing mitigation efforts and educating the community.

On average, the archipelago is hit by 20 natural disasters per year and the government's focus on disaster response rather than mitigation puts much of the population at risk.

Presenter: Emma Younger

Speaker: Loren Legarda, Philippine senator, UN Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia Pacific; Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council; Lory Tan, CEO of WWF Philippines

YOUNGER: 45,000 families are still relying on government assistance after flash flooding caused by tropical storm Washi destroyed entire communities, killing more than 1,000 people.

Washi first hit northern Mindanao on December 16 and the coastal cities of Illigan and Cagayan de Oro were worst affected.

Philippine Senator Loren Legarda is the the UN Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia Pacific.

She says the scale of devastation in Mindanao could have been avoided

LEGARDA: All the causes of the tragedy of Sendong could have been prevented and lives could have been saved if we were strictly implementing the law. Meaning if there were early warning systems instituted, if we actually heeded the advisory of our weather bureau, if we actually used the geohazard maps which have been completed by the environment department, if we had forcibly evacuated the people long before the storm hit us. So clearly there was a lack of implementation of laws and perhaps a lack of understanding.

YOUNGER: The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management law was enacted in 2009. Its purpose is to set up a framework for mitigating disasters as well as responding to them.

But Senator Legarda says the President failed to commit funds to improve disaster preparedness in the 2011 and 2012 budgets.

LEGARDA: To say we should use calamity funds only after a disaster has happened is insensitive to the needs of our people and so I urge the President to reconsider that veto so that the calamity fund can actually be used for disaster preparedness because disaster preparedness is not an expense, it is an investment.

YOUNGER: There have been previous attempts to warn the government about the vulnerability of communities to flooding caused by natural disasters.

In 2009, the World Wildlife Fund teamed up with climate experts to prepare a study called the Philippine Imperative.

It looked at the way likely climate scenarios could hypothetically impact communities, based on their location and preparedness for disaster.

With many towns located on the coast, in river deltas and on flood plains, the study highlighted the vast number of communities vulnerable to devastation.

Lory Tan is the CEO of WWF in the Philippines.

TAN: In the case of Cagayan de Oro, the rainfall up in the mountains was measured at 475mm in 24 hours, that's a phenomenal amount of rainfall. When you have that situation and you have no forests and you have no engineering interventions like retention basins and impounding ponds, and your river systems are no longer adequate to handle the high levels of rainfall that result from climate impacts, then you have a flood.

YOUNGER: Mr Tan says the government has moved too slowly to put climate adaptation strategies in place.

TAN: I believe that the urgency of the matter requires public and private participation. If it were left just up to government, the process plus the resources plus the amount of brain involved, I believe would be inadequate.

YOUNGER: The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council are orchestrating the assistance effort in Mindanao.

They're still appealing for international aid organisations to help survivors who have been left with only the clothes on their backs.

The Council's executive director, Benito Ramos, admits the government needs to improve the country's disaster mitigation strategy.

RAMOS: Complacency is one reason why we've got plenty of casualties. We need therefore to improve some work in the education and information campaign on the effects of climate change so that people can readily prepare themselves.

YOUNGER: Mr Ramos says they're in the last stage of putting a national action plan in place to guide government agencies on disaster response. He hopes the plan will be ready by the end of January.

RAMOS: This includes prevention, mitigation and then the response, relief and rehabilitation. This is from the usual reactive to become proactive.

YOUNGER: In the meantime, Senator Legarda will continue campaigning to have funds allocated to educating the community about disasters, developing early warning systems and conducting evacuation drills.

She hopes that with immediate action, lives will be saved.

LEGARDA: We are a tropical country with 20 typhoons a year. We now have more than 20 typhoons brought about by climate change. We are used to rains and floods but now rains are more intense and so this must be understood and so that's a reason why there is an urgent need to adapt to the situation and mitigate the effects of disasters.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.