Capacitating disaster fronts

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Monday, February 17, 2014


IN FIVE provinces across the country, in at least four or more barangays in each, something interesting is taking place. The leaders of these communities have come into awareness of their importance to their communities as they face natural hazards and the calamities they now regularly encounter.

They now realize that they are at the disaster fronts and must equip themselves with necessary information and then craft mitigation measures to protect their family members and neighbors within their own community from these natural hazards.

The initiative to bring disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation information to the communities also came from the ground. Filipino social scientist and academic specializing in the Geography of Natural Hazards, Dr. Doracie Zoleta-Nantes, proposed a project that aimed to strengthen the capacity of local communities in the wake of the destructive effects of Sendong and other calamities. Through the help of Australian National University where Dr. Nantes now teaches, and the Australian government through AusAid, with the Climate Change Academy of Albay as the main Philippine collaborating institution, the project was launched in the third quarter of last year and is now entering its most crucial component – the passing of vital knowledge sets that hopefully will equip local leaders to prepare for the onslaught of natural disasters in their communities.

The project design is unique since it seeks the collaboration of local government; state universities and colleges and academic institutions; and DRR and CCA experts working together to bring useful information and data gathering techniques to the level of communities. The first set of activities was a trainer’s training where modules crafted by experts on various topics on disaster understanding, preparedness, mapping, and planning were delivered.

The local academic collaborating partners and their allied LGUs translated these modules to the local vernacular and adapted the same to local data and conditions. These sets of customized training modules have just been delivered to barangays across the collaborating provinces just this month using each area’s local language and the results have been inspiring.

For the province of Lanao del Norte and the City of Iligan, one of the five collaborating LGUs, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology was the partner academic institution and a number of young faculty from the Institute was tasked to translate and deliver the adapted training modules.

Through these new knowledge tools, a new vocabulary and with it new ways of understanding natural hazards and its effects on communities have been passed on to the disaster fronts. For instance, the concept of vulnerability is now given an adaptive nuance with the local term “kahuyang.”

Through this single word, communities are now able to see and understand their collective vulnerabilities to disasters as members of the same community facing the same types of natural hazards when used for example in the sentence “ang kahuyang sa atong mga komunidad.”

There is also the convergence of shared interests with local communities and LGUs needing expertise and the academe wanting to reach out as part of their extension activities. One coastal barangay wanted to launch a mangrove replanting project for their DRR and CCA mini-project, which is part of the third phase of the project implementation. Faculty members from MSU-IIT’s Biological Sciences Department can come in to assist in the determination of what type of species and in what location of the shoreline can these mangrove seedlings be successfully planted.

The role of the academe is emerging to be an important one as not a few of the communities intend to launch their own awareness and advocacy programs within their respective areas. The possibility of involving MSU-IIT’s student volunteers and faculty members in delivering the localized training module to even more communities in the province and the city is something that the Institute can consider.

Dr. Nantes’ speech struck a chord among the workshop participants who are veterans of recent destructive disasters. She said: “The project’s objective is really to capacitate communities on DRRM and CCA concerns so that we can avoid the scenario of losing one of our family members during times of calamities.”

Running almost solely on the spirit of voluntarism, the various key players of this project across the five provinces have stumbled upon an inexhaustible resource that has fueled its successful implementation so far -- the goodwill and enthusiasm of like-minded individuals from the LGUs, academe, and the local communities wanting to make a difference in the life of their community.

There is a galvanizing spirit that is electrifying these efforts to capacitate the disaster fronts in our country and that is the emergence of a deeper sense of responsibility to each other and our communities after the harrowing consequences of Sendong, Yolanda and other similar calamities.

There is also that learned knowledge arrived at through the painful lessons of the past that the point of disaster preparedness is not just rescue readiness but awareness and mitigation even before the occurrence.

As one barangay official declared, “It is right that we in the barangays are considered the disasters fronts. It is also right that we must be capacitated since we are the first responders to the challenges posed by these calamities to our communities.”

***

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 18, 2014.

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