In the cross hairs

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Monday, May 19, 2014


"HOW far have we come from the 2004 tsunami that swamped Aceh in Indonesia to Yolanda super-typhoon that battered the Philippines in 2013? And what are the "lessons from a decade of disasters"?

These questions anchor the May issue of "Development Asia". "Building back better policies are gaining traction", asserts this Asian Development Bank publication. . But these remain a "mystery to many residents who lack resources even to rebuild...( Many ) are just looking to get back on their feet...even as the rhythms of normal life are reassert themselves..."

People know they are "in the cross hairs" of more disaster. There is growing awareness that they must become more resilient to future shocks..."

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Asia is more exposed to natural hazards than other regions. Between 1970 and 2010, half the global deaths from disasters were tallied here. More corpses, however, piled up in the poorer nations. Asia accounted for 40 percent of total economic disaster losses and .they threaten to "outpace economic expansion."

We cannot rebuild communities as before. President Benigno Aquino III told "Development Asia. We cannot. That'd only ensure a rerun of the same results. Instead, the country must rebuild in a "resilient manner."

Time, however, is in short supply Climate change is ratcheting up Asia's exposure in ways difficult to predict. Yolanda's storm surge might not have reached so far inland if sea levels, had not already risen due to global warming. Until Yolanda, Mindanao would be hit by storms, on average, every 17 years. That's now past tense. "The greater danger may lie in the unpredictability of future disasters."

The UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction urged governments to (a) prioritize disaster risk reduction, (b) enhance early warning, (c) build a culture of safety, (d) reduce underlying risks, and (e) strengthen preparedness across the board.

"Asia's report card is mixed, though progress has been striking in some areas." Indonesia, which bore half the tsumani deaths, is trail blazer. "It's reconstruction effort evolved "into a thoroughgoing disaster risk action plan that effectively used "a second tsunami' of aid."

Maldives, Thailand to Vanuatu, among others, cobbled new disaster risk management agencies. Measures range from new laws, relocation schemes to a region wide web of early warning systems, anchored by the pan-regional Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis.

More significant, official mindsets are breaking free from the cast-iron mould of after-disaster responses. Coming to the fore are before-the-storm risk management programs. "Ever so gradually, the roots of resilience are sinking deeper into Asia's political and economic superstructure"

Learn from Legazpi City's "Zero Casualty" initiative,.Two earlier cyclones killed over a thousand in Albay province. The then newly-elected governor "Joey Salceda implemented a program for disaster reliance.

Upgraded hazard maps today pinpoint places under threat. Radar tracks typhoons. Systematic efforts are made to monitor eruptions from active volcanoes, More than 5,000 families have been relocated. And a trained local volunteer corps is in place.

Salceda puts cash where his mouth is. The province spends nine percent of its budget on activities like mangrove regeneration as a buffer against storm surges and tsunamis."There is no single bullet to doing this all," Salceda said. "The only secret is common sense."

Is common sense what we lack? , asks Cebu Daily News. Only one out of 51 towns and component cities, in Cebu province, has an honest-to-goodness disaster risk reduction management office.

The standout is San Francisco in Camotes Island. The former mayor Al Arquillano is credited for tracking Yolanda's approach and his early decision to evacuate town people. Result: zero deaths and minimal property damage.

The Camotes town meet standards set by the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121). The international community hailed Camotes as a model.

In contrast, the 50 other towns have risk management offices --- on paper. ". Setting up a DRRM office and appointing a DRRM officer, for the sake of paper compliance, is a token gesture. the snapped. . The law mandates that at least 5 percent of a local government's income should be appropriated for disaster risk reduction and management. So how are LGUs really using this standy fund?

"Cebu City provides some comic relief in the bad habit of token response." The city council declared a 'state of preparedness' for the expected onset of El Niño next month. "Big words. Declaring a "state of preparedness" for a calamity is not just redundant. It may actually mean unpreparedness. The last thing we need is a pwede na attitude.

Disaster risk information often does not trickle down to local communities. And when it does, it may be in forms that are not user-friendly, adds "Development Asia". Building new houses is only half the battle

Many people are reluctant to jettison the only livelihoods they've ever known, including farming or fishing. . New skills are needed. For others, the call is to think bigger. Some Visayas coconut farmers use post-Yolanda aid to diversify .from copra to furniture , coco sugar and other products.

Boldness in policy making is needed to secure a resilient future. Can we expect that from a Congress grappling with four lists of the same pork barrel crime? Inquirer's Solita Collas Monsod puts it well: "That knocking sound you hear is porkers in government shaking in their boots...at the real possibility of jail and, better, getting barred from public office."

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 20, 2014.

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