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Monday, December 16, 2013


“IN 1999, a Category 5 cyclone devastated the state of Odisha in India, leaving 10,000 people dead and causing $4.5 billion in damages. Fourteen years later, Phailin, another monster storm almost as strong, hit the same stretch of the state – except this time with a very different outcome: Fewer than 40 people were killed and economic losses were about $700 million,” the World Bank reported of India’s most recent category 4 storm that hit India in October.

The World Bank report attributed the drastic difference in terms of losses in properties and lives to “years of disaster risk prevention and preparedness resulting in a concerted effort by the state to build resilience against extreme weather.”

Among others, Odisha invested in new cyclone shelters, evacuation routes, and strengthening of coastal embankments.

Before Phailin, the 1999 Odisha cyclone was the strongest and deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean. An even more powerful cyclone hit 14 years later in the form of Phailin, and India had everything in place.

Among the most important lessons, a cyclone shelter has to be designed to be a cyclone shelter. Schools and multipurpose gyms are not designed for such. But we, in the Philippines never learn, as we continue to evacuate our people into gyms and schools, and churches, and in the processes helping kill the hapless residents.

Indeed, there is little governments can do in the face of worsening weather disturbances, but there are ways to reduce the damage and death that should already be invested on.

The World Bank report released this month titled “Building Resilience: Integrating Climate and Disaster Risk into Development” shares good practices and innovative solutions to protect lives and livelihoods that consequently reduced losses and damages to property, infrastructure and lives.

No, fleeing will never be enough because there will always be the weak and the vulnerable who cannot flee fast enough.

In the report, it pointed out that weather-related financial losses are concentrated in fast-growing, middle-income countries because such countries have increasingly high-value assets that are also becoming more exposed and that disasters are most crippling for smaller and lower-income countries that are least able to cope.

Bottomline, every country and local government has to invest and invest big in building climate resilience. We can no longer afford to be crippled every year, knowing that the thousands crippled for one year will never be able to recover within the next year, and thus will compound the numbers who are thrown into the depths of poverty year after year.

“Climate and disaster-resilient development is the logical way forward, but there are upfront costs that could be as much as 50 percent higher. Such investments will, however, pay off in the long-run,” the World Bank warned.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 16, 2013.

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