Science and Environment

Is the strengthening of disaster risk and impact management in Phl appropriately supported by its higher education system?

STAR SCIENCE - Noel Lee J. Miranda, DVM, MSc, FPCVPH - The Philippine Star

The Philippines is among the most disaster-prone and at-risk countries, with many areas being regularly affected by a number of natural disasters, ranging from typhoons, flooding, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, public health emergencies (PHEs), etc.

The Philippines’ recent encounter with the Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) disaster revealed gaps in its disaster risk reduction (DRR) and preparedness initiatives, at national down to local and community levels. The gaps are across all sectors, and encompass the interaction with the international community, including how the humanitarian clusters are engaged during peacetime and actual disasters and emergencies, and in being able to differentiate essential services emergency coordination from coordination of humanitarian relief through the current cluster system. For example, hospital care, banking, transportation, fuel/power supply, food production, water, telecommunications, and peace and order issues to ensure operations continuity should be addressed in parallel to the humanitarian clusters’ focus on mobilizing emergency relief measures.  These concerns are put forward in light of the challenges posed during the immediate aftermath of Yolanda — as follows:

• Destruction of homes and displacement of families

• Disruption of basic and emergency health care

• Identification and disposition of dead bodies

• Maintenance of sanitation and hygiene

• Suspension/breakdown in essential services — banking, transportation, telecommunications, and fuel/power supplies

• Immediate provision of emergency-appropriate food, nutritional and clean water

• Maintenance of peace and order

Mega disasters result in services disruptions, potentially leading to widespread societal collapse and loss of lives. Therefore, societies need to ensure that more lives can be saved in the immediate aftermath of a disaster (e.g. within the first seven days of responding to the emergency state). This can be achieved through minimization of disruptions of essential services and the impacts of lack of services, and through more speedy and effective emergency relief.

With increasing poverty, urbanization, population growth, food and natural resources insecurity, and climate change, severe disasters are expected to result in more intense and prolonged human suffering, impacting on the continuity of vital supply chains. Thus, countries need to develop and implement an all-hazards program that harnesses the collective capacities of government, private sector, military, civil society, families, and individuals to minimize potential socio-economic disruptions, that pose more immediate and greater aggravation to the most underserved and vulnerable segments of society. Relatively more severe threats would require a whole-of-society integrative risk management approach that emphasizes coordination and collaboration among all sectors.

Thus, the question asked here is very relevant: Is our higher education system supportive of the demand for an enhanced Philippine disaster management system, leadership and workforce?

This is best answered by taking into consideration the multi-faceted nature of Disaster Resilience, which calls for enhancing systems management, including policy formulations, strategic planning, good governance — in building resilience through more efficient sectoral interrelationships and all-hazards preparedness. It calls for ensuring that family or household resilience serves as a foundation of more resilient communities, where cooperation mechanisms are disaster-ready, increasing the ability of a nation to cope and quickly recover.

Considering the frequency and diversity of disasters in the Philippines, the most effective means of preparedness is through an all-hazard approach rather than focusing on individual disasters. The approach should enhance institutional capacity, functions, and mandate, and cross-sectoral interoperability at the national to local levels, to drive multi-sectors and actors to jointly develop and implement comprehensive DRR P&R (Plans and Requirements).  

Higher education on integrative disaster risk and impact management as key driver

The Philippines, together with the global community, now realizes the importance of setting up integrative risk management and all-hazards multi-sectoral mechanisms. These focus on sustainable all-level preparedness to build capacities to respond to social disruptions, disunity and unrest that large-scale disasters (e.g. pandemics) generate. This aims to strengthen every part of society so that the whole system is better able to reduce risk, and if necessary, to respond to severe shocks such as massive absenteeism and disruptions that result in secondary impacts such as widespread hunger and increased illnesses and casualties due to food shortages, drinking water contamination, power outages, breakdown in health services and hygiene, and consequently, social unrest, which often poses greater aggravation to vulnerable populations and multi-sectors.

Higher education, therefore, must be sensitive to how it may enable core competency building toward strengthening integrative community disaster risk reduction, emergency responses, and recovery and reconstruction efforts. It must contribute in programming to address vulnerabilities, and enhance community and institutional resilience to mitigate and cope with a range of disaster impacts. It must enable speedier re-establishment of normal life, business and livelihood.

The institutionalization of disaster resilience is a grand task, and requires strategic change in the mindset of leaders, civil servants and everyone involved in the building of society and communities — no discipline or concerned group should be marginalized, and sectoral silos should be eliminated. Thus, innovative higher education must play a pivotal role to making this happen. Higher education (e.g. an Institute for Integrative Disaster Risk and Impact Management) must aim at preparing professionals to better contribute to the overall effort of promoting societal resilience and global security, spanning all areas, including general poverty reduction, food security, slum areas and solid waste management, and disaster and urban hazards impact mitigation. Higher education must promote broad resilience objectives, keenly cognizant that absolute efficiency of systems is contingent on the interdependencies of sectoral approaches, and the capacity to enable strategic synergies.

Premier Philippine academic institutions, in the face of these challenges, should initiate action toward building a highly skilled workforce keenly aware of disaster risk reduction and management principles and multi-disciplinary approaches necessary for managing complex institutional and operational systems, encompassing policy formulations, strategic planning, good governance, risk assessment, and the conduct of field investigations, research, training and community services. Leading higher education institutions should support leadership development — to produce a cadre of professionals and civil servants with high-level competencies in resilience systems development, implementation and management, relevant to supporting national and local government and whole-of-community stakeholder capacities.

Our higher call is to be proactive members of the global community, helping provide answers to the following questions our world faces today — Are we doing enough? Are we exerting all the right efforts sustainably on all fronts? Are our national and global command and leadership structures sufficient? Is there funneling of efforts toward global public good? People need assurance that prevention and preparedness efforts are commensurate to disaster risk and potential impacts.

To date, only a few institutions in the Philippines offer targeted higher education programs on disaster risk management and response — the Bicol University offers a MA in Public Administration (major in health emergency and disaster risk management); the University of Makati is set to offer a MSc in One Health-Disaster Resilience; and the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) offers a Masters in National Security Administration (MNSA), with emphasis on traditional security and defense issues. The NDCP, through its Crisis Management Institute, conducts seminars and trainings, and research, on various aspects of disaster risk management. The University of the Philippines Diliman, through its College of Engineering, offers DMAPS: Disaster Mitigation, Adaptation and Preparedness — an undergraduate general education subject. There is an abundance of disaster risk reduction and management-related research and development efforts being generated by a number of universities through various colleges and departments (e.g. on communication and early warning, power generation, food production, water filtration, and shelter development technologies), but these do not necessarily relate to a dedicated undergraduate or graduate level disaster curriculum. Outside the academe, the Office of Civil Defense operates its continuing education program on DRRM.

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Note:  Total resilience (or One Resilience) building requires bringing together independent approaches to resiliency — where actors, institutions and service sectors are drawn to support and depend on each other to build robust communities. It must drive whole-of-society to achieve social, health, food and energy security through the strengthening of cross-sectoral dependency, where all concerned effectively work together.

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Dr. Noel Lee Miranda is an independent senior consultant on One Health and Disaster Impact-Security-Resilience. He has 30 years’ experience as a government officer (national and regional) and in the private sector. He pioneered zoonoses prevention, diagnosis and control (One Health) initiatives while working with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine of the Department of Health (1985 to 1994).  Since 2004, he has been engaged in regional emerging pandemic threats reduction and whole-of-society all-hazards and continuity of essential services planning initiatives (through WHO, ASEAN, ADB, USAID and EU funded projects), involving conducting assessment surveys and strategic planning, designing and conducting simulation exercises, publishing scientific reports and serving as resource person for public-private conferences. He has a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the University of the Philippines, a Master of Science degree with Distinction on Laboratory Animal Science from the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, and is a fellow of the Philippine College of Veterinary Public Health. He served as Philippine Veterinary Board examiner in 2003-2004.  He is a member of the National Research Council of the Philippines. He has written a number of scientific and advocacy papers, most recently on the promotion of One Health and integrative disaster risk and impact management and resilience. He is currently supporting initiatives on strengthening higher education for enhanced pandemic threats and disaster impact-risk management.











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