By Dizery Salim
GENEVA, 29 December 2011 - In an era of climate change, countries without national disaster prevention plans will find their cities and municipalities repeatedly engulfed by disasters, warned Philippine Senator Loren Legarda – UNISDR Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in the Asia Pacific – saying governments should not be “content with post-disaster relief and rehabilitation” alone.
Following the onset of Tropical Storm Sendong last week, Legarda urged immediate action from Philippine President Benigno Aquino to put the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan into motion. She reiterated that message yesterday with an additional call for the president to devote sufficient resources to disaster risk reduction.
At a time when devastating floods had displaced over 300,000 people across 13 provinces in Mindanao, she said the Government – with the president’s leadership – should move quickly to put disaster risk reduction laws into practice, or risk losing more lives and assets.
She pointed to the high number of deaths, now reaching over 1,000, as an indicator of ill-preparedness within communities, which she said highlighted the importance of empowering local authorities to take risk reduction measures. That meant incorporating disaster risk reduction into local government budgets, said Legarda.
“Strengthening the capacity of local government units to address disaster risks and hazards is a major component of the national strategy for disaster resilience,” she said. “A national plan, no matter how good, will remain ineffective if not translated into local plans and action.”
As complaints emerged from the public about lack of guidance from the government, Legarda, who also chairs the Philippine Senate Committee on Climate Change, told the press she would organize regional workshops to explain the country’s disaster risk reduction and management law, known as Republic Act 10121. “I will put all the tools together. I will ask the UN office for disaster risk reduction, UNISDR, which has been helping me to assist in effective disaster prevention in the local level.”
Legarda explained in a press release that the Philippines had a comprehensive land use planning system, and that the Department of Environment and National Resources had produced a hazard map identifying high-risk areas where homes should not be built. But 340 municipalities out of about 1,500 – most of them poor and highly vulnerable to disasters – had yet to update their plans.
She also said those maps had outlined areas to which people could be evacuated safely. But, in the early days of the storm, the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that many residents had refused to leave their homes, raising further concerns about the public’s lack of awareness.
“I don’t think there was any seriousness and understanding of the gravity of Sendong. Even if there had been sufficient warning, there was no preparedness,” Legarda said. “A clear and effective early warning and response system using red flags like in Bangladesh must be established.”
She urged local government units not to “wait to be inundated before taking necessary flood prevention measures.” These include flood control infrastructure such as river embankments, pumping stations, flood walls, drainage systems, storm drains, canals and flood retention areas.