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Future-proofing our communities

The COVID-19 crisis is not the only emergency the Philippines is facing. The economic slump triggered by the pandemic is happening alongside the country’s vulnerability to natural hazards and climate-related disasters, and worsening preexisting social vulnerabilities.

In Salcedo, Eastern Samar, painful lessons from Supertyphoon “Yolanda” taught us that the best way to survive and cope when a series of disasters strikes is to invest in community preparedness seriously. First-hand, we have seen how combining parametric weather forecasting and financial technologies in preemptive disaster responses can be a quick and cost-effective way to protect vulnerable households.

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In February, the local government of Salcedo and Oxfam Philippines worked with the People’s Disaster Risk Reduction Network in activating a preemptive cash program so that the pre-identified 1,975 vulnerable families were able to purchase food and prepare for tropical depression “Auring,” which hit Eastern Visayas. We were able to coordinate with residents from the nine most vulnerable barangays so that the pre-disaster cash grants went directly to their electronic prepaid cards. These partnerships reflect our shared goal of ensuring that communities are at the front and center of preparedness. This is the essence of community-driven development, which is a priority of Salcedo.

Preemptive action, based on accurate forecasts and evidence, is the way of the future. Before, the municipality could activate and use its Disaster Risk Reduction and Management funds “only upon impact” or “upon landfall” of the typhoon or hazard. But the B-READY Project, an innovation that combines weather forecasting and pre-disaster cash technology piloted in Salcedo, shifts that perspective. Weather patterns can be easily predicted based on combinations of measurable environmental indicators such as wind speed, ocean surface temperature, and humidity. When the indicators signal a typhoon’s likelihood, an electronic cash transfer is automatically triggered through a digital financial services platform managed by B-READY with PayMaya and Smart Padala. Families will then be able to receive cash on their electronic prepaid cards with the help of the local government unit.

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In Oxfam’s latest study with MicroFinanza, a global rating agency specializing in inclusive finance, we analyzed the building blocks of an effective and sustainable disaster risk finance strategy. We found that disaster risk financial services like loans, savings, insurance, and cash transfers can help vulnerable communities protect their assets and secure their overall well-being even before a disaster strikes. In the Philippines, however, none of the surveyed financial institutions currently offer preemptive services, focusing instead on post-disaster interventions. On a positive note, financial institutions have shown interest in preemptive services and the adoption of disaster preparedness and mitigation interventions like microfinance and microinsurance, which we see as a promising development.

Future-proofing our communities requires working with communities more closely. When policies and regulations are transparent and co-developed with the people these aim to serve, where there is access to accurate and timely information, and when appropriate technical and financial support is at their fingertips, communities living in poverty are in the best position to organize and identify their priorities and needs. It is then up to local governments and organizations to work with them to deliver basic services and build appropriate and context-specific infrastructure.

This pandemic reveals that we cannot afford to be unprepared as disasters are becoming more frequent and devastating. Providing the poorest families in disaster-prone areas access to sustainable disaster risk financing can help reduce people’s vulnerabilities and increase their capacity to prepare, mitigate, cope with, and recover from risks.

When we future-proof communities, we future-proof the nation. Thus, consider this an invitation to all sectors to work with us and try this approach.

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Melchor Mergal is the mayor of the Municipality of Salcedo, Eastern Samar.

Lot Felizco is the country director of Oxfam Philippines. Oxfam is an international confederation of 20 humanitarian and development organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries.

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TAGS: Auring, COVID-19, future-proofing, hazard, health crisis, lockdown, pandemic, Supertyphoon, Yolanda
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