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CAR leaders as champions of Disaster Risk Reduction
Gloria Dianne Rivera

DISASTER READINESS -- The Cordillera needs leaders who have solid disaster management plans given the region’s vulnerability to natural hazards. Aside from focusing on the usual promises of improving the delivery of basic services such as health and education, and providing livelihood for families, voters must discern if  a candidate has plans of improving the region’s disaster resiliency. -- OCD-CAR

The Cordillera is once again at the crossroads of history. Jingles and speeches promising change and development grow louder as the clock ticks to the May 2016 elections. As the public is pressed to finalize their checklists of characteristics and platforms they want the next set of leaders to have, it is important to consider that “usual” promises of better economy and more jobs are no longer enough.

In a time when disasters, climate change impacts, and human-induced phenomena evolve by the day, voters should realize that they need leaders who are proactive disaster managers, leaders who possess intelligence in the use of resources, and leaders who have truly learned from the past and will ensure that enormous disaster impacts will never happen again.
Knowing our vulnerability to disasters

The Cordilleran spirit has been tested by a great deal of disasters.

In 1990, a magnitude 7.8 killer earthquake affected the region due to the movement of the Digdig Fault in Nueva Ecija. This resulted in thousands of casualties in Northern and Central Luzon and more than 100,000 homes were damaged.

In 2009, Typhoon Pepeng struck the region and claimed over 300 lives. Most deaths were due to landslides. Devastation to infrastructure and agriculture reached more than P1 billion.

In 2015, 16 small-scale miners were buried after a huge part of a mountain fell on their barracks in Mankayan, Benguet at the height of Typhoon Ineng. Five provinces, except Ifugao, were placed under a state of calamity due to the damage incurred. Not given enough time to recover, Typhoon Lando struck the region a month after the occurrence of Typhoon Ineng. It led to the death of 27 individuals. More than 100,000 individuals were affected by the typhoon. Five municipalities and one barangay in Ifugao were placed under a state of calamity.

Aside from death and displacement, typhoons Ineng and Lando collectively caused the Cordillera P1.02B worth of damage to agriculture alone and P2.75B in government infrastructure, destroying years of previous development projects and making systems futile in a blink of an eye as they were not entirely “disaster-proof.”

Though the Cordilleran spirit shone through these circumstances, the bigger picture is our vulnerability to hazards of different types also came into light. Although we, Cordillerans, perceive ourselves as resilient in character, we are still tested during actual disasters. It should be known that disaster resiliency is not measured individually but collectively. All sectors in our society must be empowered because we are only as strong as our weakest link.

According to Pagasa, 20 tropical cyclones enter the Philippine area of responsibility every year, five of which have the potential to be very destructive.

The hazard map released by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau suggests almost 90 percent of the Cordillera region is susceptible to landslides due to its topographical features.

Aside from natural phenomena, human-led activities such as urbanization has contributed to the increase of the region’s vulnerability to hazards. Although it has paved the way to the region’s progression, there are negative effects that need to be addressed. The rise in population, construction of infrastructures in hazard-prone areas, and practices that contribute to global warming may increase the overall disaster risk of our region if not properly addressed.

Our vulnerability shows we need “disaster risk reduction champions” who will anchor us to preparedness, fast response, and recovery. Unless we are guided and led properly, we will never realize that we actually have the power to overcome our vulnerability.

Learning from the past

Harsh lessons from the past pushed government agencies to come up with radical plans for disaster risk reduction.

Last March, the Cordillera Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Plan (CRDRRMP) for 2016 to 2020 has been approved by the Cordillera RDRRM Council (CRDRRMC) after a series of painstaking workshops. This plan has set specific goals, objectives, and programs for the four thematic areas of disaster risk reduction, which are prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and rehabilitation and recovery.

Unified efforts of the member-agencies of the CRDRRMC that resulted in the enhanced version of the CRDRRMP shall be treated as the road map on how disaster risk reduction shall contribute to gender-responsive and rights-based sustainable development from the regional down to the grassroots level.

For this plan to be effective in improving DRRM in the region, local leaders need to support and consider this as one of their priorities. Highlights of the plan include:

• Activities that strengthen the capacity of the personnel of regional government and the local government units’ personnel and direct-partner stakeholders down to the grassroots level;

• Trainings and programs that build the disaster resilience of communities and institutionalize arrangements and measures for reducing disaster risks, including climate change risks;

• The development of common tools to analyze the various hazards and vulnerability factors, which put communities and people in harm’s way and implementation of competency and science-based capacity building activities alongside the nurturing of continuous learning through knowledge development and management of good DRRM practices on the ground;

• Integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the plans, activities, and budgets of government agencies;

• Promotion of the enhancement of the comprehensive land use plan and climate change adaptation;

• Enhancement and implementation of agriculture resiliency plan to help farmers cope with the effects of disasters and climate change and ensure food production all year round;

• Development and enhancement of monitoring, forecasting, and hazard warning of communities;

• Adequate health services and facilities that can cater to the needs of families and communities before, during, and after disasters or emergencies;

• Building infrastructures with increased disaster resilience;

• Practice of timely, effective and well-coordinated response to emergencies, disasters or calamities in order to preserve life and property; and

• Provision of timely and well-coordinated rehabilitation and recovery services that are responsive to the needs of the affected individuals due to emergencies, disasters or calamities.

The road to achieving disaster risk reduction is difficult, almost elusive. But it is possible. In reality, the plans, policies, and programs are already in place and our task is to implement and improve what is in the law and what is already laid out to the best of our ability to ensure that the welfare of Cordillerans will not be compromised.

Whether or not we have learned from the past can be tested by comparing damage and losses from disasters years back to 10 years in the future in order to fully check if we truly have reduced our disaster risk. This is also a target of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), an international agreement which the Philippines has acquiesced to.

For this to be realized, we need leaders who are committed enough. We need champions for disaster risk reduction. We need champions who will capacitate us and will show us that we can be champions for disaster risk reduction, as well.

Our history and our exposure to hostile environment and circumstances show that we need “disaster risk reduction champions” who will anchor us to prevent disasters from occurring in addition to disaster preparedness, fast response, and recovery. Unless we are guided and led properly, we will never realize that we actually have the power to overcome our vulnerabilities.

Knowing the kind of leaders we need

Here’s “Leader A.” He has impressive deve-lopment plans for your community’s economy. He wants development. He wants alleviation of poverty. He promises more jobs, a better education system, promises of agricultural breakthroughs, and innovations. But then he does not prioritize disaster risk reduction leading to a weak development plan. Through time, he achieved his plan for the community with flying colors. But that development did not last long as disaster struck. He responded with the “bahala na si Batman” attitude. There were no plans, only gut feeling in decision making. Development crumbled as the community was not able to invest in disaster risk reduction. Efforts were back to square one. Meet “bahala-na-si-Batman.” He’s one of the candidates roaming around your barangay with seemingly delightful jingles. Is he worthy of your precious vote? Think again.

Here’s “Leader B.” He woos you with his stern development plan. He believes development can never be attained without disaster risk reduction. So along with the promise of better education system, he insists institutions should work hand-in-hand in equipping students on disaster preparedness. Along with the promise of agricultural innovations are resiliency plans that will make sure that food is still served on tables despite the occurrence of disasters. He supports urbanization but with a sealing point. While investors continue to flock, he condemns building in hazard prone areas. Disaster came. It had great impact but people were ready for it. Leader B acted with a “resilient hymn.” He has one solid plan. This is “decisive.” He’s one of the candidates roaming around your barangay hoping you would give him a chance, question him, test him. Will you give him your precious vote?

The candidates who are vying to be our potential leaders are all clamoring for development, but one of them may not have a proactive stance against disasters which can destroy decades’ worth of progress in a matter of hours. When disaster battered them, their leadership styles were tested.

Knowing the kind of leaders we need

Natural hazards are uncontrollable. But we hold a powerful tool to prevent these hazards from causing disasters – preparation for worst case scenarios by building our capacities and knowledge on possible impacts of hazards that threaten us. As the adage says, Prevention is better than cure.”

LGUs are the front liners in disaster management. They have the foremost responsibility to enforce rules and regulations to equip their constituents before the next disaster strikes. Being proactive should be in their system. Their strong political will is crucial in reducing the vulnerabilities of our region.

While some LGUs with innovative leaders already embraced this role, the sad reality is that there are still several who do not consider disaster risk reduction a priority. As May draws near, we need to watch out for leaders that act only when disaster transpires. They do not have specific plans to guide them when the worst case scenario occurs, they do not have a response plan, but they are energetic and hands-on in creating rehabilitation plans that require millions from the national budget.

We, the voters, can change that picture. We have the power to elect who will govern us next. We need leaders who are champions of disaster risk reduction. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in a struggle for survival and safety.

Effective disaster risk reduction and management boils down to making risk reduction a way of life.

In this light, we should consider leaders who will:  Commit in engaging with local DRR managers to ensure that all efforts are harmonized; Support the continuous implementation of the law and the crafting of effective policy frameworks on DRRM; Engage with communities at risk and provide trainings on the various vulnerable sectors like children, women, persons with disabilities, the elders and the indigenous peoples; Unify stakeholders of society under the banner of resilience by nurturing healthy mechanisms of collaboration, which will lead to the harmonious execution of parallel programs of government and the private sector that tend to support each other and bring about the desired DRRM goals; and Further strengthen our current DRRM system through good governance and exemplary responsibility, unhindered by political favors and affiliations.

There is more to disaster than deaths, evacuees, and relief goods. Disasters affect us in a much bigger scale. It can disrupt agriculture, education, and tourism. A proactive disaster manager should know that sustainable development cannot be fully achieved without taking disaster risk reduction as a priority. Disaster risk reduction plans should be incorporated in every LGU’s’ development plans. Our future leaders should be wise in laying out plans that pushes resiliency in every aspect of governance.

Our people require a strong bulwark to depend on during difficult times. Calamities are trying times that do not only require a heart of dedicated service, but also wisdom and clear foresight. These require prescient, strategic, and decisive character. Our people deserve leaders who will think outside the box, leaders who are innovative and will capture the minds of their constituents for them to think forward with them.

Our people deserve exemplary leadership; that brand of leadership that would help keep them out of harm’s way or save them from any danger.

Our next set of leaders must be a living assurance to our people that the government will remain steadfast and true to the mission of building safer, climate-change adaptive, and disaster resilient Filipino communities enjoying sustained growth and progress.
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