A new framework on disaster risk reduction was agreed upon in the recently concluded gathering of world leaders, ministers and cabinet members at Sendai in Miyagi, Japan from March 14 to 18.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is an updated version of an earlier Hyogo Framework for Action, which aimed at reducing disaster risk. Though the former also aimed at reducing risks in disasters and losses in lives, properties and other assets, among others, the Sendai Framework for Action clearly presented four priority actions that are geared towards responding to impact of increasing uncertainties for the next 15 years.
These are: 1. Understanding disaster risk; 2. Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk; 3. Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; and 4. Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to build back better, in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The Sendai Framework for Action is aptly conceived at a time when the Philippines is still reeling against the impacts of the strongest tropical typhoon ever recorded, Super Typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan), which left more than 6,000 people dead and P571 billion in loss and damage. A senior official from the Philippine government reported that Yolanda alone, slowed down economic growth by about 0.9 percentage points in 2013 and 0.3 percentage points in 2014.
In late 2014, many of the same coastal communities affected by Yolanda was once again hit by Typhoon Ruby, which meant that populations near the coasts are the most affected by frequent tropical typhoons. The Filipino fisherfolk therefore are the people most at risk.
Filipino fisherfolk: The least resilient
In a country that is battled by natural disasters and recurring small disasters, communities living within low-lying coastal areas are the most vulnerable to strong typhoons, storm surges and flooding. The risks are even higher given that the fisherfolk are the poorest among the poor with 40 out of 100 living below the poverty threshold, forcing them to live within areas that are highly susceptible to disasters.
Besides large-scale disasters, fisherfolk are confronted by equally deadly everyday disasters such as declining fish catch and low income from fishing. They tend to go out to the sea despite gale warnings to catch fish in order to provide food for their families and for their daily sustenance.
Even in disaster responses, coastal communities face considerable challenges. If lucky, they are the last to receive food and non-food provisions given their proximity just like what happened to those living in islands off Bantayan in Northern Cebu.
During recovery and reconstruction, most of them who live within the high-risk areas are relocated to areas far from sea, their primary sources of livelihood and sustenance. No wonder why several of the fisherfolk-beneficiaries of relocation programs in Tacloban City are coming back to Brgy. 88 in San Jose District to fish near Cancabatu Bay.
There are already more than 1.5 million registered fisherfolk based on the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR). This means there are more people who face everyday disasters and in constant threat from slow onset events like sea-level rise and ocean acidification, both threatens food security and livelihood of people who depend on the ocean. This means that the government needs to invest more on resilience.
Sendai framework for Filipino fisherfolk
This is why the Sendai Framework for Action (2015-2030) is highly significant for fisherfolk who are the least resilient in the Philippines. The framework considers the huge impacts of natural and man-made disasters to the most vulnerable groups. It recognizes the primary role of the government to ensure that the costs to economy, societal relations, culture and environment are at its lowest.
The post-Hyogo framework affirms the contributions of fisherfolk as stewards of the sea, since the framework emphasizes the role of maintaining healthy ecosystems, such as mangroves and coral reefs, as natural defenses against storm surges and typhoons.
More emphasis is also given to the contributions of underlying risks such as poverty and inequitable distribution of wealth in sustaining and creating new risks as articulated in Priority Action no. 3. The Sendai Framework for Action also underscoresthe pivotal roles of local government units as the frontline responders to disasters. Strengthening the capacities of LGUs and other stakeholder groups in mitigation, preparedness, responses, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction is likewise emphasized.
For the Philippines, it signals the time to review and refine existing policies such as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act in order to further strengthen institutions, both national government agencies and LGUs, not just to mitigate disasters and respond to them but also integrate developmental framework into the process of recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
This is also the right time to seriously consider establishment of coastal greenbelt, both mangroves and beach forests, as well as other bio-shields. The Congress might want to look at Senate Bill 2179, which was filed by Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino 4th, to establish at least 100-meter coastal greenbelt, initially at the Eastern Pacific Seaboard, where strong typhoons and storm surge occur.
The National Land Use and Management Act (NLUMA), which has been languishing in the previous Congresses, need to be enacted to prevent further loss of our land resources. The NLUMA underscores the need for coastal zoning to determine which areas within the coastal zone are suitable for settlement, production, protection and for critical facilities.
Several countries praised the Philippines for having established policies and programs to reduce the impacts of disasters. Its accumulated experiences as a nation built from a culture of disasters served as a compass to build back better. It is time to build a culture of resilience starting among coastal communities.