[OPINION] Resilience is not enough
Resilience has become a known Filipino trait. The ability to quickly recover from difficulties is most prominently seen during the aftermath of disasters. It is by no means a negative trait; after all, it becomes more necessary, given the challenges that lie ahead for us.
However, there comes a point when resilience will no longer be enough. When corporations are still allowed to destroy our surroundings in the reckless pursuit of profit, the environmental problems we currently deal with will just keep getting worse. When laws and policies are not properly enforced for the welfare of the people, it is those same people that would bear the brunt of the most devastating impacts of disasters.
You cannot keep poking at nature and expect to get away safely every single time.
From a global scale to the local levels, the disconnect between policymakers and scientists has hampered efforts for environmental protection and fostering genuine sustainability. Despite the IPCC’s warning regarding the need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels by 2030, companies promoting coal, oil, and gas use still have a big influence at the climate negotiations. Big polluting countries continue to block efforts for greenhouse gas emissions cuts and funding for vulnerable countries like the Philippines to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
This disconnect is also evident in the Philippines, which hinders not only the country’s disaster risk reduction capacity, but also its national development. At a time when the world needs to heed what science is saying about climate change and environmental degradation, it seems some of our government leaders prefer to sound intelligent to look good in front of the electorate instead of listening to sensible solutions.
Look no further than the recent comments made by our lawmakers regarding the Taal Volcano eruption. One of them proposed cloud seeding as a solution to the resulting ashfall. This action clearly presents more risks than benefits, as this could damage crops, contaminate water sources, and cause roofs to collapse in nearby areas. Another suggested holding PHIVOLCS accountable for a lack of information, despite eruption warnings already being publicly available since March.
Lost in the tongue-in-cheek ignorance that tends to be sensationalized these days is the problem that needs focusing on: a lack of capacity at the local level. You cannot expect local communities to keep rebuilding disaster after disaster, considering the ones hit the hardest are often among the poorest and most vulnerable. We keep hearing about local government units (LGUs) pointing fingers at others when asked about the perceived lack of urgent response.
This is why the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) is unnecessary for the Philippines. Instead of focusing on proactively addressing the hazards that could lead to disasters and minimize losses and damages, lawmakers are focused on responding to and rehabilitating after calamities already happened. Rather than strengthen local capacity to address disasters, it centralizes resources and mechanisms for responding to times of crises by adding another bureaucratic body. While we need a centralized data-related information system, this can be handled by the Department of Information and Communications Technology with the NDRRMC.
Prevention is always better than cure. To truly live up to the “whole-of-nation” approach to disaster risk reduction management requires genuine participation from different stakeholders. It involves empowering LGUs to avert and prepare for potential disasters, man-made or natural. It involves strictly implementing the existing disaster-related legislation, which is already considered globally as “best-model legislation.” We do not lack laws; we lack political will.
Most importantly, it must include installing a precautionary culture in dealing with disasters among the Filipino public. We need to listen to what the science is telling us, and we need to persuade our leaders to do so. We need to shift from the reactionary approach to disasters that have led to our country being one of the most vulnerable in the world for decades. We need to avoid sharing fake news during times of danger, which is still unfortunately happening during the Taal Volcano eruption.
Recent evidence suggests that progress is being made in this regard. For instance, while storms near the intensity of Yolanda have hit the Philippines in the past 6 years, the casualties and costs of damaged properties are lower than that inflicted by the infamous super-typhoon. Preparedness for responding to earthquakes, flashfloods, landslides, and other hazards have also seen noticeable improvement in the past few years. Efforts for communicating information related to disaster preparedness and response have also been observed by many.
Nonetheless, significant improvements are still needed in our disaster risk reduction management. We must listen to reason and logic, not propaganda and soundbytes. Being resilient is good, but why do we need to be resilient when we can avoid needing to be and save ourselves the costs that might be too much to handle? – Rappler.com
John Leo Algo is program manager for Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (KASALI), and has represented civil society in global climate negotiations. He earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University in 2018.