ARE Philippine businesses ready for climate change? This was the general question of the business leaders, scientists, professionals, and policymakers who attended the “Business Resiliency Summit” of the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines last May 26. Business leaders emphasized that business and government offices should be located in secondary and tertiary cities for emergency urban growth centers as an alternative to Metro Manila, and counter magnets to regional growth to “Imperial Manila.”
For the past six years, economists and business leaders around the world described the Philippine economy as Asia’s rising tiger. Its economic growth is one of the fastest in the world. In the first quarter of 2016, the Philippine economy grew at a staggering 6.9 percent, faster than China’s 6.7 percent and Vietnam’s 5.7 percent.
Though despite the country’s impressive economic growth, local business leaders and, most especially, foreign direct investors still have been cautious with pouring more investments. They are concerned with the country’s ability to adapt to the new realities of climate change. The Philippines is in the top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change, and many investors are asking: Is the Philippine government doing enough?
During the summit, the most feared catastrophe is a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. As early as 2004, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) launched the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS), which already identified vulnerable areas in Metro Manila. Twelve years thereafter, what has been done to address this? With good governance, it will probably take 15 years for Metro Manila to recover. With poor governance, maybe it will take 50 – 100 years.
What govt should do
Right after the event of Ondoy and the earthquake in Haiti, I have been sending Malacañang as well as other government agencies 145 recommendations that will help prepare for the negative impact of climate change, and mitigate and adapt to the new normal climate of the 21st century.
An appreciation for holistic planning and adaptive architecture, which includes the environment, climate change adaptation and disaster risk management, and security by design is central to these recommendations:
1. There should be dedicated offices to study climate change impact per local government, and have the authority to implement pro-active programs. One of the models that can be emulated is how Albay’s Disaster Risk Management office integrates its plans with other economic and social programs of the LGU.
2. Metro Manila is congested. Government centers should be established outside the metropolis to encourage development in other regions. In effect, this would slow down in-land migration and ease traffic congestion, most especially in the central business districts. Urban Growth Centers will act as counter-magnets to the inefficiently centralized Metro Manila.
3. At least 10 hectares of open space and evacuation area should be dedicated per city. The evacuation area should have emergency water stations, food stations, emergency shelters, emergency power generators, parking to emergency vehicles, emergency helipad, emergency telecommunication and satellite communication, and proper public toilets and shower rooms, among others. I also believe that there should be recreation and inter-faith areas dedicated, as these can ease traumatic tension.
4. Revise the National Building Code, and set new standards to address the new realities of climate change. Houses should be able to withstand until 270 kph gust of wind, and for identified flood-prone areas, houses should not have liveable spaces in the ground floor or below the flood line.
5. Taking account of all the doctors, nurse, engineers, architects, policemen and firemen, in the vicinity of the barangay would enable the authorities to reach out to these people and give them designated roles during calamities. Efficient mobilization of first-aid within the vicinity is planned, and citizens know what to do and where to go.
6. Strict implementation of disaster information systems. In some barangays, lampposts are painted with flood-height levels. This signifies if the area is prone to flooding. Investing in sirens is also recommended, versus relying in door-to-door information of barangay officials.
7. Commercial establishment should take part in evacuation plans of the LGU. In low-lying areas, there is nowhere to go during flooding, except to nearby two-story (or higher) establishments. The government should coordinate with these establishments regarding their roles during calamities.
8. Strict implementation of non-habitable areas for water easements (living near rivers and esteros), regular checking of fire extinguishers, and accessibility of fire exits. There had been many cases for factories that are not compliant with the fire code. Some do not have fire extinguishers for specific type of fire, no fire prevention training, and inaccessible fire exits.
Holistic planning and adaptive architecture
In the long run, the sustainability of the city and its ability to adapt rests in proper city planning and architecture. Institutions should integrate its plans to create a master plan for the entire city so that proper elements will be put into place, and there will be synergy and order.
Disaster resilience, however, is not just a government concern. Private individuals and companies need to be creative in addressing potential issues arising from natural and man-made calamities beyond business continuity. Adaptive architecture, like building structures on stilts or connecting buildings with elevated walkways, can be done to ensure that life goes on even if there is flooding or other obstructions on the ground level. Even small steps like implementing regular fire drills, providing emergency kits to employees, training them to conduct first-aid, and many other precautionary measures, could help protect our most important asset, our people.