Climate change –induced weather disasters have quadrupled during the last few years. The 2011 horrifying earthquake and tsunami in Japan is one such weather disaster. The 2013 typhoon Yolanda accompanied by the terrifying storm surge in the Philippines is another.
Tropical storms, extended drought, harder monsoon rains, devastating floods, unexpected landslides and earthquakes are more common now in densely populated Asia where people are the most endangered when natural calamities strike. The annual cyclones in Bangladesh, the uncommon cyclone occurrence in Myanmar in 2008 as well as the destruction brought by typhoons Ondoy, Sendong, and Pablo in the Philippines drew attention to these countries’ efforts at reducing disaster risks in managed ways.
Disaster risk reduction (DRR) systems are now in place in Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines with the support of international organizations like the Red Cross and the Save the Children and their respective governments. DRR refers to all activities by local communities, families, governments and NGOs that help reduce in advance the effects of natural disasters. The objective is to cover all risks including the effects of climate change.
Disaster risk reduction system
The main feature of a disaster risk reduction system is a disaster plan and prevention program in endangered towns and villages. It incorporates standardized warning signals, different flags for use before and during disasters, identification of emergency shelters, evacuation procedures, emergency food stocks (and replenishment), utensils for immediate use like cooking stoves, water supply, provision of sanitary facilities and others.
Experience with disaster emergency management gave way to the principle of “build back better” which means that damaged structures are not simply replaced but improved to make them more resilient and intact for the onslaught of another natural calamity.
Like in other areas of environmental management, the institutional arrangement to cope with natural disasters involve not just one government agency like the Department of Social Welfare and Development but many other environment-related agencies such as those on local governments, health, education, agriculture, police, public works, etc. The Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) follows that direction through effective inter-agency linkages and coordination with regional and local governments for disaster remediation operations.
At the international level, the UN has an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction which aims to guide and coordinate the efforts of a wide range of partners to achieve substantive reduction in disaster losses and build resilient nations and communities as an essential condition for sustainable development. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) is the secretariat of the ISDR system and comprises numerous organizations, states, NGOs, financial institutions, technical bodies and civil society which work together and share information to reduce disaster risks.
It also serves as the focal point for the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action, a ten-year plan of action adopted in 2005 by 168 governments to protect lives and livelihoods against disasters.
With the prominence of the field of environmental law during the last four decades, the enactment of a legislation on disaster risk reduction and management is encouraged. One such is the 2010 Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (R.A. 10121). An action plan and guidelines to define the respective roles and responsibilities of government agencies, schools, NGOs and other groups is in place. The challenge is to translate into effective local community action to save lives and reduce disaster risks and economic losses. Above all, a safety culture in times of disasters and emergencies should be established so that people in danger areas will be well informed and motivated to consciously integrate the risks in their day-to-day living.
Indeed, the success of any disaster plan and prevention program depends on the cooperation of the local people exposed to danger. Nobody is more familiar with the immediate environment than the local inhabitants themselves who are also best situated to overcome the risks that accompany weather disasters aided by disaster emergency awareness and preparedness strategies and techniques.
(Mr. Tolentino is a Filipino pioneer in the field of environmental law and served as environmental law consultant to UNEP. He was Philippine Ambassador to Papua New Guinea and Qatar).