Paradigm shift in disaster response: Proactive, not reactive
We were once again witness to the devastating impacts of a tropical cyclone—tropical storm Maring. We saw homes, crops, lives and livelihoods devastated by floods.
This comes as the Philippine weather bureau declared the onset of La Niña, which means we can expect even more communities to be displaced, homes damaged and farmlands indundated.
Every year, an average of 20 tropical cyclones enter the Philippine area of responsibility.
A 2021 report released by the World Meteorological Organization said 75 percent of deaths caused by weather, climate and water hazards in the South-West Pacific were recorded in the Philippines. This resulted in an average of 1,000 deaths per year over the last five decades.
Fortunately, extreme weather events and their impacts on communities can now be better forecasted.
We see more governments shifting from being merely reactive to disasters to being proactive and investing in preemptive, anticipatory measures—from early evacuation to pre-disaster assistance in the form of cash, food and other necessities.
United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres himself recently opened a high-level event on anticipatory action, organized with the governments of Germany and the United Kingdom.
The UN even selected the Philippines as a pilot country for the implementation of anticipatory action to address cyclone-related disasters. Through Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., the Philippines joined other governments in committing to more forecast-based early actions.
There is already proof of concept of anticipatory action in the Philippines. Oxfam Pilipinas, with the support of the Dutch Relief Alliance and the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, is working with partner non-government organizations and local government units (LGUs) on anticipatory action on floods and tropical storms.
Impact-based forecasting and risk maps are being developed with communities themselves, taking into account local disaster knowledge. With the community, participating LGUs are able to develop forecast models that serve as guides on when to trigger preemptive action.
Even before a typhoon makes landfall, a community that is expected to bear the brunt of the rainfall or the flood and its other effects can immediately access pre-disaster assistance.
Pilot areas for these forecasting innovations have shown how preemptive cash grants can save lives—allowing families to buy their necessities prior to evacuation and even reinforce their dwellings.
Participants in pilot areas, like Salcedo, Eastern Samar and Cotabato City narrated how, even as they needed aid, their dignity and wellbeing were intact. They were given the space to make their own decisions on how to prepare and what to prioritize—from food to medicines.
People also became more invested in the concept of disaster insurance. Local governments appreciated the effectiveness of anticipatory action, which has helped improve humanitarian responses and policies.
Now, a policy must be put in place for anticipatory action to be scaled out, scaled up and scaled deep. To begin with, resources must be allocated to enable LGUs to carry out preemptive responses.
This requires a paradigm shift so that calamity funds can be allocated even before a disaster strikes. With the Philippines facing multiple risks—from the centuries-old problem of flooding to climate-intensified typhoons—it’s about time that we invest in proactive, preemptive action. Our country’s vulnerable communities deserve nothing less.
Lot Felizco is country director of Oxfam Pilipinas. Oxfam is an international confederation of 21 humanitarian and development organizations working with partners and local communities in 67 countries to build a more equal future
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