Our disaster management systems and protocols are of the most basic and critical policy concerns for our nation, and they deserve vigilant, careful attention.
1. Natural Disaster Risk Profile
According to the World Bank, “The Philippines is one of the most hazard prone countries in the world.”1 Situated in the tropics and in the ‘Ring of Fire’ region, which is characterized by high levels of seismic and volcanic activity, the Philippines sits upon its own tectonic plate, sandwiched between the Pacific and Eurasian plates, and is exposed to “multiple natural hazards including typhoons, floods, drought, as well as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.”2
Since 1990, the country has experience 565 natural disaster events, which have claimed the lives of nearly 70,000 Filipinos and caused an estimated $23 billion (roughly P1.1 trillion – yes, with a ‘T’) in damages. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Haiyan) alone claimed over six thousand lives, injured almost 30,000 people and is estimated to have caused P90 billion ($2 billion) in damages.3 On average, our country experiences 20 to 30 typhoons per year and faces serious concern that the world’s warming climate will contribute to an increase in both the frequency and destructive potential of these storms.4
Figure 1: Natural Disaster Occurrence in the Philippines (1990-2014)5
Aside from the direct costs in terms of lives lost, persons injured, and properties destroyed, the country’s susceptibility to natural disasters poses numerous indirect challenges, such as diminished economic potential due to damage or loss of infrastructure as well as internal displacement. Our disaster management systems and protocols are of the most basic and critical policy concerns for our nation, and they deserve vigilant, careful attention.
2. The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework
"On paper at least, our nation’s disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs are some of the most comprehensive and progressive in the world."
On paper at least, our nation’s disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs are some of the most comprehensive and progressive in the world. Indeed, international organizations have praised the Philippines’ leadership in this policy area.6 The country’s DRR efforts are characterized by a community-based approach, which was codified in 2010 through the adoption of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (RA 10121). The disaster management framework is considered progressive because it empowers local stakeholders to directly engage in disaster risk reduction efforts, whilst recognizing the particular vulnerabilities of marginalized groups such as women, children, disabled persons, ethnic minorities, and the elderly.
Under RA 10121, local government units (LGUs) take on a leading role in developing and implementing preparedness and relief programs. The DRRM law created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), which advises the President, making it the highest-level policy-making body with regard to DRR. The NDRMMC is a polyglot working group consisting of various government, non-government, civil sector, and private sector organizations, administered by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), which is under the authority of the Department of National Defense (DND). The Secretary of National Defense chairs the Council whilst the secretaries of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) serve as the NDRRMC’s vice chairmen.
Figure 2: Governance Structure on Disaster Management7
Upon first glance, the DRR framework adopted under RA 10121 seems to encompass a dizzying number of member agencies. However, it is precisely this broad approach to DRR that characterizes the Philippine program as being highly progressive. Under the adopted framework, each of the constituting agencies is responsible for separate aspects of DRR. ‘Prevention and mitigation’ falls under the auspices of the DOST and the DILG oversees ‘preparedness’ — the area of DRR policy concerned with risk mitigation before a calamity strikes. After a disaster event, the DSWD is meant to take charge of ‘response,’ while the NEDA focuses on ‘rehabilitation and recovery.’ The Disaster Management coordination Office of Civil Defense serves as the operating arm of the NDRRMC and is entrusted with helping implement the policies developed by the Council.
The NDRRMC structure is replicated at both regional and local levels. This devolution is meant to serve as the mechanism to promulgate the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Plan on regional and local levels and allow LGUs to assume leading roles in both risk reduction planning and disaster response operations.
3. Implementation Issues
"...there is a clear gap between the theoretical and actual outcomes of the NDRRM program."
Though the NDRRM framework appears comprehensive, an examination of our nation’s experiences during the five years since the passing of RA 10121 reveals that significant shortcomings in mitigation and response capabilities persist. Despite the United Nation’s regard for our risk reduction laws as one of the best in the world, it is evident that there is a clear gap between the theoretical and actual outcomes of the NDRRM program. The NDRRM framework appears solid on paper, but comes up short in reality.
According to the Commission on Audit (CoA)’s 2014 “Assessment of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management at the Local Level” there remains a great lack of capacity and technical expertise at the local level. Notable (and alarming) results of the report include8:
- Only 23% of LGUs located in flood-prone areas are prepared for disasters in terms of awareness, institutional capacities, and coordination.
- Less than half (42% to be exact) of Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (LDRRMCs) have complete members.
- Only two thirds of Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices (LDRRMOs) — the operational arms of local DRRM councils — have complete staffs for research and planning, administration and training, and operations and warning.
From the Commission on Audit’s report, a few key themes emerge:
- There is a mismatch between institutional responsibilities and capabilities at the local level.
- Many LGUs continue to think and operate in reactive terms, such as disaster response and relief, rather than in pre-emptive terms, such as risk reduction and mitigation.
- There are significant variations among LGUs in terms of their awareness and utilization of available DRR resources.
Despite these noted shortcomings, community-based DRR is widely accepted as a superior disaster management schema — it allows local stakeholders to assess their own needs and pursue programs to those ends. Yet, it is clear is that we are still experiencing growing pains in terms of fully adopting and taking advantage of the NDRRM Act.
Philippines Disaster Risk Management. (n.d.). Retrieved January 11, 2016, from http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/EXTEAPREGTOPRISKMGMT/0,,contentMDK:22240932~pagePK:34004173~piPK:34003707~theSitePK:4077908,00.html2
Assessment of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) at the Local Level (Rep.). (2014). Quezon City, Philippines: Commission on Audit.4
Gaillard, J., Cadag, J. R., & Viado, R. C. (2014, August 8). "A hard Act to follow: Disaster risk reduction in the Philippines." Retrieved January 11, 2016, from http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/08/a-hard-act-to-follow-disaster-risk-reduction-in-the-philippines/7
Assessment of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) at the Local Level (Rep.). (2014). Quezon City, Philippines: Commission on Audit.8