DisasterNet Philippines: Scoping Study Report
Vincenzo Bollettino, PhD
Philip Dy, MPP
Tilly Alcayna, MPH
Patrick Vinck, PhD
The Asia-Pacific region generally, and the Philippines in particular, are highly susceptible to natural disasters. Frequent exposure to typhoons and flooding, as well as volcanic activity and earthquakes necessitate high levels of disaster preparedness and a commitment to disaster risk reduction. The Philippines is home to over 100,000 million people, many of whom are impacted by natural disasters every year. In addition to disrupting peoples’ everyday lives, natural disasters destroy property, disrupt economic production, reduce national output, exacerbate disparities in wealth, and hinder livelihoods, especially amongst marginalized communities and those living in informal settlements. To illustrate, the 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction by the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that the multi hazard average annual loss for the Philippines is $7.893 billion, which is equivalent to 69 per cent of social expenditure in the country.
The Philippines has developed robust laws and government capacity to respond to disasters. National government agencies, private sector consortia, research institutes and civil society organizations provide training and education for disaster responders, help build awareness of disaster risk reduction measures and improve the overall preparedness of Philippine society to natural disasters.
Despite very concrete advances in the science and practice of disaster risk reduction (DRR), and disaster preparedness, this scoping study revealed that there are opportunities to further improve disaster resilience. Changing weather patterns associated with global climate change have not only shifted weather patterns but have also created stronger typhoons. The unpredictability of storm paths, storm frequency and the increasing severity of storms limit the effectiveness of traditional disaster preparedness measures, and necessitate a review of existing practices and measures needed to adapt to a new climate.
Large numbers of informal settlements, coupled with the movement of people into areas highly vulnerable to flooding and other disasters, mean that large numbers of people are routinely impacted by disaster. While the Philippine national government has devoted significant resources to building disaster capacity, training government staff, and legislating comprehensive disaster management laws, there remain significant gaps in capacity to implement these laws, especially at the local government unit (LGU) level.
There is a range of gaps in disaster preparedness including uneven capacity at the local government and municipal levels, limited business continuity planning for small and medium enterprises, inconsistent levels of professional training of staff within various disaster management agencies, inadequate professional staffing levels at the local government level, insufficient dissemination and translation of scientific findings into policy and operational tools and underinsurance of industry and households.
To address some of these gaps, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has undertaken a three-year project in the Philippines termed DisasterNet. This project seeks to improve community-based resilience to natural disasters by supporting local government units and communities through applied research, education, and tools relevant to effective disaster preparedness and management. The first phase of this project was a scoping study undertaken in the Philippines from September 8 – 24, 2015. A team of researchers from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative undertook the data collection for this study in Manila, Albay Province, and Iloilo City.
The purpose of the scoping study was to map government, community-based organizations, national and international non-governmental organizations, private sector initiatives, and research and academic institutions working on disaster preparedness and response.
The study further assessed disaster preparedness and response strategies and systems in Albay Province. Albay Province is the recipient of many awards in recognition of its high level of disaster preparedness and effective disaster management. One goal of the DisasterNet project is to capture effective disaster preparedness strategies and to provide educational tools that will enable the entire country to learn from the experiences of those areas that have devised successful preparedness measures.
The results of this scoping study will lay the foundation for a broader national or regional level survey that will identify the leading contributing factors that determine effective disaster preparedness measures and the antecedents of high measures of community-based disaster resilience. The survey will provide contextual data to understand disaster preparedness and resilience in the Philippines. The data will inform programs and policies to enhance preparedness and identify key (unprepared) vulnerable groups. HHI will further explore developing a disaster preparedness score that could be used to monitor household level preparedness over time.
The scoping study further identifies existing disaster management agencies, networks of leaders and agencies focused on preparedness activities (especially at the community level), and key opportunities for further professionalizing and training officials responsible for disaster response.