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Cuba’s disaster risk reduction as model for PH

/ 05:05 AM January 16, 2022

Every time a typhoon approaches Philippine territory, it is only fair to say that Pagasa (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) does its job well in delivering regular weather reports despite budget cuts in the past years. The cuts of course delayed the modernization of the country’s weather bureau.

The private sector and civil society organizations usually lead relief efforts whenever disaster strikes the country—may it be a typhoon, earthquake, or volcanic eruption. But the more important question that we should ask is: Does the government have a concrete plan for disaster risk reduction? If yes, how effective is it?

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The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons each year, thus, an effective disaster risk reduction is a must. But if only body counts and retrieval operations are done, then government doesn’t have such effective measures.

On the other side of the globe, an island nation has been acknowledged for its disaster risk reduction not only by the United Nations but also by international nongovernmental organizations and academics despite 60 years of US economic blockade that impeded its socioeconomic development.

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This is Cuba, the largest and most populous island in the Caribbean. Its location in the North Atlantic Ocean invites a slew of hurricanes and storms yearly. Despite this, Cuba still manages to safeguard its people from hazards. A 2011 analysis by the Center International Policy highlighted the low fatality rate in the island caused by hurricanes. In fact, the US has suffered more casualties than Cuba where the former recorded 44.73 deaths per million people and the latter only 2.43 deaths per million people from eight storms in over eight years.

According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), this became possible with Cuba’s three pillars: education, civil defense, and meteorological institute. Education is the main pillar where Cubans are taught disaster preparedness at an early age; yearly, they have a two-day training session in risk reduction for hurricanes, supplemented with simulation exercises and concrete preparation actions.

Cuba’s civil defense and meteorological institute also have roles in implementing the four-phase emergency program. In Phase 1 (Information), television and radio play a vital part in informing the public of an incoming hurricane. In Phase 2 (Alert), government agencies are mobilized 48 hours before the hurricane is forecasted to hit, to implement the emergency plan; measures such as evacuation are taken. In Phase 3 (Alarm), as the hurricane batters the country, the government’s disaster response goes into full effect with all levels of civil defense remaining at their posts. Phase 4 (Recovery), with the hurricane no longer in the national territory, local, municipal, provincial, and national leaders proceed to recovery and rehabilitation of damaged services and infrastructure.

In the 2002 study, “Popular mobilization and disaster management in Cuba,” Holly Sims and Kevin Vogelmann contended that “Government intervention and popular participation are critical elements of Cuban disaster mitigation and public health policy. The Constitution enjoins the state to save lives and resources during natural disasters.”

British international NGO Oxfam, in its 2004 report, concluded that “there is no comprehensive substitute for reducing poverty and promoting social and economic equity as the fundamental long-term strategies to reduce vulnerability to hazards” in disaster risk reduction. With the disaster equation of “risk = hazard x vulnerability,” it seems that disaster risk reduction is not a simple task, especially in the Philippines where the government is corrupt and has no interest in science-driven response to disasters. With this Cuban model, we can put pressure on the government to commit to a long-term sustainable development that will reduce risk and set up a national structure of disaster mitigation, preparation, and response. Only with the realization of these will Filipino lives be saved.

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Jervy Briones is an instructor at the Department of Social Sciences, University of the Philippines Los Baños.

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TAGS: Commentary, Cuba disaster risk reduction, Jervy Briones, PH disaster response, PH typhoon response
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