A new way to address the disaster problem
What the Philippines experienced with Typhoon “Ompong” was not only a painful reminder of infamous disasters over the past decade, but also a taste of things to come. There is an urgent need to strengthen the disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) framework in the Philippines. Of utmost concern is improving disaster prevention and mitigation, which will save the nation considerable financial, environmental and human losses.
Recently passed by the House of Representatives is House Bill No. 8165, which establishes the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR). This superagency will lead the organization and management of national efforts on the preparation and response to disasters, rehabilitation of hard-hit areas, and risk reduction related to natural and human-induced hazards.
To improve efficiency in policy implementation, DRRM will be integrated with climate change adaptation. This will be mainly reflected in the formulation of a Climate-Disaster Resilience Framework and Plan, which will require that local government units undertake more holistic disaster risk assessment and planning to reduce vulnerabilities in prone areas.
Under this bill, the National Disaster Resilience Council (NDRC) will replace the NDRRMC, to be chaired by the DDR secretary. Along with increased representation in NDRC, nongovernment actors will be engaged through a Multi-Stakeholder Convergence Unit, especially businesses, to ensure the continuity of provisions of goods and services after disasters.
HB 8165 also proposes the establishment of the Climate and Disaster Research, Education, and Training Institute, which will serve as a learning and research facility for disaster resilience, in collaboration with other academic institutions and local communities.
The superagency will also issue guidelines for using the National and Local Disaster Resilience Funds. At least 7 percent of local revenues must be allocated to the LDRF to support both immediate and long-term measures. Furthermore, third to sixth class provinces and municipalities will be given additional funding to quickly improve their DRRM policies and programs.
The agency will also oversee the mandatory insurance by LGUs of the assets, properties and livelihood of vulnerable and marginalized groups, for potential loss and damage arising from natural hazards.
However, the terms of HB 8165 leave issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, the creation of the DDR requires government reorganization, where functions of agencies such as the Climate Change Commission, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology will either be transferred or attached to the superagency. This proposal faces opposition due to potential conflicts in the objectives and functions of these agencies with the proposed department.
Furthermore, the bill places more attention on disaster preparedness and response. While the DDR’s Climate Change Service will have climate change mitigation as one of its mandates, there is barely any mention of it in the bill. As projected disasters in the future will be caused by hazards intensified by higher greenhouse gas emissions, the key role of climate change mitigation in enhancing the country’s disaster-related efforts is indisputable. Resiliency will eventually run out if the hazards become too strong to be dealt with.
Another issue is that the formulation of new plans under the bill does not clarify how they will build on existing national plans for DRRM and sustainable development. This needs to be immediately addressed to prevent inefficiencies in policy planning, implementation and assessment.
Lastly, while it institutionalizes preemptive and forced evacuation specific to instances when there is imminent danger of loss of lives and/or damage to property, ensuring justice in the process must be a major consideration.
Will these changes enable the Philippines to survive projected catastrophic events? This is one of the many questions that need to be answered as HB 8165 moves through the next stages of the legislative process.
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John Leo C. Algo, the Science Policy Associate and Climate Reality Leader of The Climate Reality Project Philippines, has a BS in Environmental Science (minors in Public Management and History) from Ateneo de Manila University.
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