Do you know that there’s no such thing as “natural disasters?”

 

In observance of National Disaster Resilience Month, it must be emphasized that disasters happen because of the interaction of natural hazards with poor urban planning, weak risk governance, increasing socio-economic inequalities, and declining ecosystems.

Moreover, it must be highlighted how the prevailing climate crisis is adding another dimension to disaster risk, exposure, vulnerability, and resilience.

Thus, in this month’s #Realitalk, we asked Climate Reality Leader Ferth Manaysay to talk about the nexus between climate change and disaster risk, progress and gaps on institutionalizing climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR), and the crucial role of open data and the youth in building resilience.

Ferth is the Project and Partnerships Manager of MapaKalamidad.ph, a free web-based and open-source platform that harnesses the power of social media and instant messaging to gather, sort, and display information about disasters.

In this feature, Ferth reminds us that risk is not static. As Climate Reality Leaders, we must demand our leaders, both at the national and local levels, to ensure the synergy and complementation of CCA and DRR  actions in the country.

Contrary to common understanding, disasters are not a direct result of natural hazards but are consequences of the complex interaction between hazards and the characteristics that make people and places exposed and vulnerable. How is the prevailing climate crisis affecting disaster risk in the country?

 

Ferth: During the last few months of 2020, consecutive typhoons wreaked havoc in the Philippines which resulted in extensive and destructive floods. Scientists have long warned that the climate crisis will make extreme weather events more frequent.  are highly prone to disasters by virtue of our natural geographic exposure. In our country, the changing climate, however, has translated to more intense floods, landslides, and droughts, as well as increased precipitation rates and wind speeds associated with tropical cyclones. Along with stronger storms, sea-level rise has also intensified the impacts of storm surges in our coastal communities, especially in social and economic terms such as loss of lives and damage to infrastructures. In this regard, climate change and disaster risk reduction are tightly intertwined. The climate crisis has not only been increasing climatic hazards but has also been intensifying the vulnerability of our communities to hazards.

In the case of the Philippines, climate change has reduced our abilities to cope with even the existing levels of hazards. While global warming has been exacerbating the onset of extreme weather events and other forms of climate change-related losses and damages in the Philippines, it is worth noting that the barrage of disasters our country has been experiencing can also be attributed to the failure of our leaders to sufficiently prepare communities for these hazards. As such, it is important to underscore that many processes, including climate change, are behind these interconnected risks. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has made it even more difficult to prepare, respond, and recover from one typhoon to another. Nevertheless, the existing tools of disaster risk reduction also offer powerful mechanisms for climate adaptation.

Aside from climate change, other underlying drivers of disaster risk in the country are poor urban governance, vulnerable rural livelihoods, and declining ecosystems. How are these elements contributing to the dramatic increase of disaster risk in our communities?

 

Ferth: Disaster risk can be determined based on the severity and frequency of hazards, the exposure of people to the hazards, and the vulnerability of the people to damage. This may indicate development failures because hazard, vulnerability, and exposure are shaped by different forms of risk drivers such as poverty, poor urban planning and regional development, and environmental degradation. By increasing the exposure and vulnerability of communities to hazards, climate change adds another layer of stress to such risk drivers and diminishes the communities’ abilities to manage and cope with the effects of disasters.

Informal settler families in Philippine urban areas, for example, are among the most vulnerable groups to climate-related impacts such as flood events linked to intensified storm surges and sea-level rise due to unstable infrastructures. In the same manner, the increase in the number and exposure of people to climatic hazards can affect the livelihoods of vulnerable communities.

Increased drought will likely lead to risks for populations dependent on subsistence livelihoods, while the increased frequency of precipitation will likely lead to damages to agricultural assets, losses of lives, disruptions of commerce and transport, and pressures on urban and rural infrastructure.

For our part, it is imperative to highlight that our vulnerability is dependent not only on the decisions and policies that our leaders make but also on the steps our communities take in order to prepare for disasters. After all, risk is not static and can change based on the actions we pursue to decrease our vulnerabilities to hazards. 

"While our country has made progress in terms of institutionalizing DRRM and CCA policies, there are still challenges in terms of their implementation."
FERTH MANAYSAY

How is the Philippine Government addressing prevailing and emerging climate and disaster risks in the country? In your opinion, do we have enough policies, institutions, and systems in place to implement and synergize climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management efforts?

 

 

Ferth: The Philippine Government has made great efforts in integrating disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) and climate change adaptation (CCA). This is reflected in the different legal and policy frameworks in place which recognize the interrelationships between these two concepts.

As a signatory of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), our country created the Climate Change Commission (CCC) with the passage of Republic Act No. 9729 (RA 9729) in 2009. The CCC was tasked to mainstream climate change adaptation and mitigation into government policy and establish a framework strategy.

The Philippines is also a signatory of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Sendai Framework (2015), and Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015), which have augmented the efforts of the country towards DRRM and CCA.

In addition, the country enacted the Republic Act No. 10121 (RA 10121), Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, which involves the following thematic pillars: (1) disaster prevention and mitigation; (2) preparedness; (3) response; and (4) recovery and rehabilitation. Republic Acts 10121 and 9729 are among the policies requiring the inclusion of DRRM and CCA not only at the national but also at the local level.

While our country has made progress in terms of institutionalizing DRRM and CCA policies, there are still challenges in terms of their implementation. Based on our experiences from the recent disasters, for example, the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) has faced constraints in terms of coordinating the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), which is composed of member-agencies that are occupied with their own primary mandates and responsibilities.  Similarly, CCC also has limited mechanisms to support agencies to prioritize adaptation measures. 

How can we further strengthen national and local risk governance in the country, ensure appropriate preparedness and effective response to disasters, and build national and local resilience?

 

Ferth: Given the losses and damages we incur every year due to climate-induced disasters, we cannot afford to settle for “business as usual” practices if our goal is to become a disaster- and climate-resilient country. In the Philippines, the impacts of climate change have been worsened by rapid environmental degradation and unsustainable development practices. These take into account why we need to look for nature-based solutions to mitigate the risks of disasters and adapt to climate change. These may include the protection of our forest resources and rehabilitation of degraded areas.

At the institutional level, the recent typhoons have also shown us that there is a lack of coordination among government agencies at the local and national level, which is why it is important to improve inter-agency and inter-local government cooperation in planning, recovering, and responding to disasters.

As indicated in the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP), climate-related disaster risks reduction efforts should put the people at the center of resilience-building strategies in anticipation of medium- and long-term changes in climate. As such, adaptation measures should be done to help strengthen the resilience and capacities of local communities, especially in poor and low-lying areas.

Despite the convergence on the policy level, the implementation of DRRM and CCA measures has been challenging due to overlapping responsibilities, actions plans, tools, and institutions. Although there are ongoing debates about the creation of a standalone agency to deal with disasters, my hope is that the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience will not only be focused on effectively responding to and managing the risks of disasters but also on dealing with the realities of our climate crisis. 

 
"As part of our commitment to enable more equitable forms of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation, we are thrilled to share that MapaKalamidad.ph will soon be launching a new program aimed at empowering young leaders who can support disaster risk reduction in their communities!"
FERTH MANAYSAY

Before joining Climate Reality Philippines early this year as Engagement Officer, you’ve been working on the web-based platform MapaKalamidad.ph. What is this project all about and how is it contributing to effective disaster risk reduction and management in the country?

 

Ferth: MapaKalamidad.ph is a free web-based and open-source platform that harnesses the power of social media and instant messaging to gather, sort, and display information about disasters at the street level in real time in a manner that removes the need for expensive and time-consuming data processing.

In order to filter through the noise of social media and collect verified crowdsourced disaster reports, MapaKalamidad.ph listens for specific keywords in social media posts (such as flood) and sends programmatic invitations asking users if they would like to contribute to community-based disaster mapping. Humanitarian chatbots guide users to submit anonymous flood reports through four steps: verify their location, record flood heights, and add photos and descriptions. These reports are displayed on a public map in real time. Government agencies may monitor the platform to assess the disaster situation, respond to resident needs, and as part of a transparent two-way communication system, update the map with time-critical information in order to alert residents to the severity of the flood.

By integrating localized knowledge from a variety of sources into a single, robust platform, MapaKalamidad.ph can provide a comprehensive overview of disaster events, enabling residents, humanitarian agencies, and government agencies to make more informed decisions during emergencies.

Our platform is committed towards democratizing decision support tools—ensuring that all residents have access to the information they need to coordinate individual and collective actions for safety while also providing first responders with tools for evidence-based emergency response and community resilience.

In our commitment towards supporting disaster preparedness and building resilient communities, the platform is actively involved in engaging in partnerships and training programs with various local communities, agencies, and universities across the Philippines. Our platform advocates for the use of open data as fundamental tools and methodologies for mutual aid and supporting collaborative efforts for adapting to climate change.

MapaKalamidad.ph has been highlighting the role of the youth in disaster risk reduction and management. What is your message to your fellow young Filipinos who are interested to contribute to resilience building?

 

Ferth: As part of our commitment to enable more equitable forms of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation, we are thrilled to share that MapaKalamidad.ph will soon be launching a new program aimed at empowering young leaders who can support disaster risk reduction in their communities!

 

It goes without saying that young people are able to bring fresh ideas to the table and this includes the process of building resilience to disasters. During emergency events, young people can undertake active roles in social media-powered information-sharing by reporting real-time disaster information to MapaKalamidad.ph to help their neighbors and government agencies better understand and respond to on-the-ground situations.

 

By underscoring the importance of social media in times of disasters, our main goal is to enhance the potential and power of young people in spreading awareness and engaging their communities in activities to become prepared for disasters. For the most part, young people are still seen as passive victims who have untapped potential to make unique and collective capacities to drive solutions. We hope our platform can provide a concrete way to enhance the role of the youth in educating, advocating, and communicating about disaster risk reduction.

 

In MapaKalamidad.ph, we aim to break the one-way, traditional notion that the youth are mere beneficiaries by involving and empowering them to become partners in disaster risk reduction. As young people, we have the power to influence our families, peers, and communities in taking concrete action to mitigate risks.