• A year after Yolanda, disaster ranking worsens

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    Last of two parts

    Even in the case of a national agency such as OCD [Office of Civil Defense], not much has been accomplished with regard to the projects under Disaster Preparedness, of which it is the lead agency. There were no reported accomplishments in the calendar year (CY) 2012 Performance Review and Assessment of the NDRRMP [National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan].
    — Commission on Audit report on disaster management in the Philippines

    Visayans fuming over the dismal government response to Typhoon Yolanda, would rage even more over the Commission on Audit’s 42-page report, titled “Disaster Management Practices in the Philippines: An Assessment.”

    As quoted above, COA said the lead agency in calamity response, the Office of Civil Defense under the Department of National Defense, had “no reported accomplishments” in disaster readiness in the year before Yolanda.

    That’s like the Philippine National Police doing zilch for crime fighting capabilities all year. No wonder Yolanda response took so long, despite Aquino’s claim of 32 aircraft, 20 vessels, and relief goods ready.

    With COA’s assessment, one wonders why no one in OCD was fired. Or maybe there was.

    In February 2013, then OCD Executive Director Benito Ramos quit, citing health reasons. In January this year, current head Eduardo del Rosario offered to resign after the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), which the OCD head also runs, was accused of stopping the Yolanda body count at 6,300 to avoid making President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s 2,500 estimate look more ridiculous.

    World Risk Index ranking gets worse
    Whether Ramos left due to disaster unpreparedness, COA certainly finds substantial deficiencies. That partly explains why four years after passing the NDRRM Law in May 2010, with advice and applause from disaster experts and institutions, the Philippines’ ranking in the World Risk Index (WRI) rose from third-most calamity-prone to second.

    Available at www.worldriskindex.com and assisted by United Nations University, WRI annual rankings in 2011-13 consistently rated the country behind tiny Pacific islands Vanuatu and Tonga. But this year we displaced Tonga as No. 2.

    The index measures both exposure to natural hazards, about which little can be done, and disaster risk reduction and readiness, for which a lot can.

    Explains the report: “The Index consists of indicators in the four components of exposure towards natural hazards such as earthquakes, cyclones, flooding, drought and sea level rise; susceptibility depending on infrastructure, food, housing and economic framework conditions; coping capacities depending on governance, risk reduction, early warning, healthcare, social and material coverage; and adaptive capacities related to future natural hazards and the impacts of climate change.”

    Exposure data doesn’t change much; the Philippines consistently rates 52.46 percent. Susceptibility, coping and adaptive capacities, which together measure vulnerability, improved gradually from 2011 to 2013. But this year, the Lack of Adaptive Capacities rating deteriorated to 48.17 percent from 43.16 percent in 2013.

    A key adaptive capacity indicator are strategies and undertakings to adapt to hazards, especially global warming. Projects under the billion-peso People Survival Fund, enacted in 2012, should have improved adaptation. So would initiatives of the Climate Change Commission, supposed to be chaired by the President himself. But PSF and CCC have not reported significant achievements, and Aquino has never even met with the commission.

    Coping capabilities depend on good governance, disaster preparedness and early warning, medical services, social networks, and calamity insurance. The NDRRM Law was designed to enhance readiness by creating a billion-peso Cabinet-level calamity response agency like America’s Federal Emergency Management Administration. Plus: organizational and capability building for DRRM among local government units.

    To date, there is no Philippine FEMA, and as COA revealed, countless LGUs remain inadequately organized and trained for catastrophe. Thus, our 80.03 percent coping grade is lower than Vietnam’s 76.87 percent and China’s 70.03 percent, and barely above India’s 80.31 percent and Indonesia’s 80.98 percent.

    Disaster unpreparedness abounds
    Strengthening OCD is crucial to address one COA concern regarding several levels of DRRM councils from national to barangay, plus a host of agencies responding to catastrophe: “The multi-sectoral, multi-agency organizational structure with multi-level approach renders it difficult to come up with appropriate and immediate response.” Solution: a powerful FEMA-style OCD. Without it, delay and disarray result.

    COA also noted the lack of funding for LGU calamity capability building: after 2009, “there has been no Calamity Fund released to DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] responsible for disaster preparedness. [Instead,] the government has shifted its priority … giving the largest share to DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development], an agency responsible for disaster response.” Nor did OCD establish a calamity training institute, as mandated by the NDRRM Act.

    So if LGUs can’t cope with calamities, as DILG Secretary Mar Roxas asked Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez to state in writing, the national government is partly to blame for not funding capacity building. (DRRM failings of LGUs will be discussed in future, based on another COA report.)

    Predictably, state auditors found DRRM spending to be “largely reactive,” with minimal funding to prepare for disaster, then massive outlays when it happens. With a constrained readiness budget, COA lamented the lack of “emergency management system; staff, equipment and other logistics; [and]systematic distribution system” as well as “inadequately trained and equipped response team.”

    Let’s hope the next President properly implements the NDRRM Law.

    (Ric Saludo was secretary general of the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission tasked with recovery planning for the 2009 Ondoy and Pepeng calamity.)

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    3 Comments

    1. victor m. hernandez on

      I think that one effective way of dealing with disaster is to plan according to scenarios. Thus scenario plan should be done, if not already in place. In whatever scenario it is, the most critical component is logistics plan. Since the country is composed of many islands, and most of the resources will come from the central commisary of goods and equipment, that is in Manila, bringing these to the place of devastation will be a big challenge. The plan, therefore, must consider roads, water, and air transport, in terms of quick delivery and response. Clinics, hospital, water, and fire fighting facilities, and power and electricity are to be considered. This really is a big challenge. And coordinating this in the actual operation will need a operating and weather proof communication. These scenario plans ned to be tested, and have some drills on this. Practice is important. I guess, Albay LGU has an exceptional experience on this. And good decisive action of the LGU is much more important as demonstrated by a mayor in a town of a far flung Daang Bantayan Island in north of Cebu. There are lessons to be learned from their experience. Red Cross experience and expertise can be a good resource tof the scenario planning. These plans must be manualized, that is written in Operations Manual. Again, practice, drill, is paramount.

    2. The bottom line in this article is, if you ask the PNoy mischievous government, their performance in the rehabilitation of folks and the structures from the devastation coming from Yolanda is successful and satisfactory. However, if one ask the victims themselves, the government is so slow and had and does not do enough for the victims. Now, who shall we believe?

    3. Claro Apolinar on

      Thank you, Mr. Saludo.
      Let’s hope AND PRAY the next President properly implements the NDRRM Law