No vaccine for natural disasters
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - October 30, 2020 - 12:00am

Below are my opening remarks today at the colloquium organized by the National Resilience Council (NRC).

The last two decades saw the number of disasters caused by extreme weather nearly doubled to 6,681, up from 3,656 between 1980 and 1999, according to a recent report by the United Nations. The world is, indeed, struggling with unprecedented storms, flooding, wildfires and droughts linked to climate change.

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated the task of dealing with these and other hazards and disasters at all levels of government. One cannot blame governments from taking their eyes off these ever-present threats to face the immediate danger posed by COVID-19 which has already infected 40 million people and caused 1.1 million deaths.

But once a safe and effective vaccine is developed and deployed, hopefully by the middle of next year, COVID-19 will recede as an existential threat. There is, however, no vaccine for natural disasters. But just like wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands have helped control the spread of the disease, so too are there ways to reduce exposure and vulnerability to disaster risk and strengthening resilience to its impact.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the pandemic, it is that it has exposed in stark contrast the difference that good governance can make in successfully combatting the pandemic. So too can good and effective risk governance spell the difference in how countries successfully deal with the consequences of disasters.

It starts at the LGU level because, at the end of the day, all risk is local. It is local communities that bear the brunt of any disaster. The first responders and the ones who will undertake long term recovery are the LGUs. This is why the NRC has focused its effort in helping LGUs to develop their capacity to effectively prevent and not just respond to disaster risk. It is a two-way street – the NRC provides globally developed science and policy in risk perception and best practices, but these are tempered with the realities on the ground from the shared experiences of the LGUs.

LGUs, however, are just the first line of defense, and while they should ready themselves to take on that responsibility, they cannot do that by themselves. They will require the national government to provide guidance, resource and funding within the structure of a national plan that combines a comprehensive policy and regulatory framework and implementing mechanisms. That framework should address the challenges of disaster prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery in the context of development planning, rather than just in preparedness for emergency response. That way, local leadership will also approach this challenge from that perspective.

The other important lesson that has emerged in responding to the pandemic is that a holistic approach – with the national government, local government, academe, civil society and the business sector working together in a coordinated and collaborative manner – works best. It breeds good disaster risk governance. This is where our greatest challenge is and here are some thoughts as to how we may accomplish this.

At the national level, the various departments involved like DILG, DSWD, DOST and DepEd need to work in a consolidated manner in dealing with LGUs, not department by department. A step in the right direction is the creation of an empowered authority or a Department of Disaster Resiliency to better integrate disaster resilience into planning, policy and action at the national and local levels.

The business sector and civil society have always played a significant role during national crises. Cognizant of their varied cultures and social responsibility programs, there are issues and challenges which can be better addressed collectively.

NRC Colloquium 2020 Pathways and Milestones in Building Local Resilience is happening today at 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. via Zoom. For more information and to register, go to bit.ly/2020nrc

Seeing Red

General Antonio Parlade Jr.’s red tagging of celebrities speaking out publicly in support of women empowerment and inclusion are collateral damage in the administration’s campaign to discredit Gabriela and four other left-leaning party lists groups in Congress tagged as communist fronts. It has aggressively used social media to do this. But messaging that advocates inclusion (particularly of women and the disadvantaged) and social justice (which does not necessarily translate to belief in communism) will always have greater resonance with the public than threatening statements from a government already perceived as run by retired generals and is misogynistic to boot.

Parlade is the spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) created in 2018 to lead the Duterte administration’s counter-insurgency campaign by combining socio-economic assistance with robust anti-Communist propaganda. So if winning hearts and minds is the raison d’etre for the NTF-ELCAC’s existence, by attacking these women, Parlade’s brash remarks have instead roused widespread indignation. It also brought unwelcome attention to his little known, but well-funded organization run by the military.

The President and Defense Secretary Lorenzana were quick to hush Parlade. But now that the NTF-ELCAC is out in the open, I hope that they see this as an opportune time to reassess whether this mechanism is the most effective and sustainable way of addressing the deep-rooted poverty and feeling of neglect in the rural population that makes them vulnerable to radical views. Similar efforts in the past have failed because of poor execution and corruption.

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