While the Legislature has surrendered to the President its power of the purse and the power to check the abuses of the Executive, and the Supreme Court is trying to sort out the mess brought about by the apparent failure of the Constitution and failure of governance, the Philippines today faces a grave peril of a different kind—from Mother Nature.
Among 173 countries, the Philippines is No. 3, globally, in two categories – Highest Risk and Most Exposed—to disasters resulting from extreme natural events.
The ranking was made by the think tank Alliance Development Works which came out with what it calls World Risk Index which ranks global disaster hot spots. The Philippines is the third most exposed, after Vanuatu (No. 1) and Tonga (No. 2) and ahead of Guatemala (No. 4), Bangladesh (No. 5), and Solomon Islands (No. 6).
In Oceania, in Southeast Asia, in the southern Sahel and in Central America, the high exposure to natural hazards and climate change coincides with very vulnerable societies.
What is conspicuous is that, among the 15 countries with the highest risk worldwide, eight are island states – including Vanuatu, Tonga and the Philippines, the Top Three.
Owing to their proximity to the sea, island states are particularly exposed to the natural hazards of cyclones, flooding, and sea level rise.
The World Risk Index is calculated by combining four elements: exposure, susceptibility, lack of coping capacities and lack of adaptive capacities. Combining these four yields the so-called vulnerability index which is the possibility of a disaster happening due to an extreme natural event. For instance, rainfall good for one month falls in just one day. That’s an extreme natural event which in turn causes massive floods like Ondoy and Habagat, landslides and building collapse.
Risk is understood as the interaction between a hazard (earthquake, flood, cyclone, drought, rising sea level) and the vulnerability of societies.
In this context, vulnerability refers to social, physical, economic and environment-related factors that make people or systems susceptible to the impacts of natural hazards and adverse consequences of climate change.
Additionally, the World Risk Index examines the abilities and capacities of people or systems to cope with and adapt to negative impacts of natural hazards.
Exposure refers to entities (population, built-up area, infrastructure component, environmental areas) being exposed to the effects of one or more natural hazards (earthquakes, cyclones, droughts, floods and sea level rise). It counts the number of people exposed to earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and sea level rise.
Exposure relates to the annual average number of individuals who are potentially exposed to hazardous events. In this regard, the frequency of hazards is also taken into account.
Additionally, the number of people are considered who would potentially be affected by the sea level rising by one meter.
Susceptibility is the likelihood of harm, loss and disruption in an extreme event triggered by a natural hazard.
Susceptibility takes into account: “public infrastructure”, “housing conditions”, “nutrition”, “poverty and dependencies”, “economic capacity and income distribution”.
Of every 100 index points in Susceptibility, nearly 29 points is assigned to ratio of the population without access to improved sanitation and the ratio of the population without access to improved water source, 14 points to share of population undernourished, and 28 points to poverty and dependency ratios, as well as capacity and income distribution.
Coping and coping capacities are the ability societies and exposed elements (for example critical infrastructure such as nuclear power stations) to minimize negative impacts of natural hazards and climate change through direct action and the resources available.
Coping capacities take into account “government and authorities”, “disaster preparedness and early warning”, “medical services”, “social networks”, and “material coverage”.
In contrast to coping, adaptation is a long-term process that also includes structural changes. It takes into account: “education and research”, “gender equity”, “environmental status/ecosystem protection”, “adaptation strategies” and “investments”.
In effect, the World Risk Index is also a measure of poverty or incompetence of government or both. The poorer a country is, the larger the population is who are poor, the less developed the infra, the less prepared government, the greater is the risk of disaster.
In the case of the Philippines, it is not a case of poverty that has made the country a very risky place for disasters. Per capita GDP in purchasing power parity is $4,413 as of 2012, compared with the per capita GDP of $1,709 for No. 9 in highest risk, Timor Leste, $1,883 for No. 6 Solomon Islands, and $3,1297 for No. 4 Guatemala. It is more a case of government not having invested enough in facilities and infrastructure which should have lessened the suffering of our people and mitigated the impact of natural events like earthquakes, storms, floods, drought and the rise in sea level.
That underinvestment is appalling given the billions of money in the hands of our President and our legislators which they can dispense at will and without regard to the welfare of our people. That underinvestment is the biggest disaster of all.