Chile and the Philippines: Cooperation in natural disasters

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Jose Miguel Capdevila - The Philippine Star

The recent earthquake in the island of Lombok in Indonesia, with its toll of casualties and material destruction along with the floods in the Philippines and India recently are expressing the presence of recurrent natural disasters that have stricken the region since time immemorial.

But the difference from the past is that climate change and global warming are currently playing a major role in terms of their frequency and the scale of destruction associated with them.

The international community has been striving in order to have a common response to tackle the incidence of climate change by agreeing on a set of political commitments over which international instruments such as the Paris Agreement are the cornerstone to deal collectively through a multilateral, concerted response, to address these issues.

Chile’s track record with regards to natural disasters is quite eloquent. Its geographic location within the so called “Pacific Ring of Fire” has made it – since its inception as a Republic back in the XIX century – prone to various forms of  earthquakes and tsunamis. In 1960, Chile’s territory was struck by the largest earthquake ever registered in the history of mankind - 9.5 in the Mercalli’s scale - followed by a powerful tsunami that travelled at the speed of about 200 miles per hour across the Pacific Ocean, killing 61 people in Hawaii, 138 in Japan and 32 in the Philippines. Later in 2010, another potent earthquake and tsunami hit Chile with a magnitude of 8.89, responsible for the deaths of 525 people and massive destruction to the infrastructure of the country. Adding more complexity to this reality, 25 percent of the volcanos in Chile are active and pose a permanent risk to the population living in rural as well as in urban areas.

Given this reality, throughout the recent years different governments have been working hard to develop a consistent and comprehensive national policy to efficiently deal with natural disasters. Institutions have been reinforced, budgets have been increased and both the private sector and the civil society are integrated with the public sector to improve Chile’s capacities on this matter. The results of this strategic decision have been very positive so far: from 2010 onwards the country was struck by two big earthquakes and the timely, preventive and organized response spared the loss of thousands of lives, both in the hinterland and coastal areas of the national territory.

Aware of the fact that Chile and the Philippines are countries exposed periodically to natural disasters and the importance we attach to international cooperation, in 2015 both nations signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. This instrument, which entered into force in 2017, provides a legal framework to foster and enhance bilateral cooperation with special emphasis on the process of prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response and rehabilitation. Likewise, the scope of cooperation of this MOU envisages inter alia the sharing of early warning information and the exchange of good practices, including plans and protocols, sound public policies on disaster mitigation, community actions on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), and financial assistance for DRR.

Therefore Chile is ready and willing to start a conducive dialogue with Philippine authorities in order to define ways and means on how to implement the aforesaid MOU in the shortest time possible. One possible avenue is convening a technical meeting among the national agencies in charge of disaster risk reduction and management of each country – in Manila or in Santiago – to discuss this matter in depth and provide a roadmap for the bilateral cooperation that would follow up.

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(Jose Miguel Capdevila is the Ambassador of Chile to the Philippines)

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