Call for better planning in wake of Manila floods

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific
Philippines Senator Loren Legarda gives a keynote speech at the 'Regional Forum on Effective Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in Greater Metro Manila' in March 2012. (Photo/Joseph Vidal)
Philippines Senator Loren Legarda gives a keynote speech at the 'Regional Forum on Effective Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in Greater Metro Manila' in March 2012. (Photo/Joseph Vidal)

GENEVA, 23 August 2012 - Even by the standards of one of the world's most disaster-prone countries, the August floods which hit Manila and other parts of the Philippines have been devastating. Latest reports indicate that four million people have been affected and as many as one million people are living with relatives or in evacuation centres.

UNISDR Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction, Senator Loren Legarda, writing in the Inquirer News has called for more "disaster and climate risk-sensitive development planning. Today, over half a million Filipinos, so called climate refugees that were displaced by the monsoon rains, have suffered irreparable damage on their homes and possessions, adding to the 3,995 families still residing in temporary shelters seven months after Tropical Storm Sendong."

The chairwoman of local NGO Transform Asia, Reihana Mohideen, told Radio Australia that many thousands of affected were living in squatter colonies with inadequate pumping capacity and poor drainage.

She said: "The devastation that you travel through to get to these centres of flooded huts - this is the face of poverty. Housing is inadequate. There are no proper drainage systems. The roads get flooded so quickly, and you don't have water catchment to catch and store this water. There's inadequate power supply."

Her comments were echoed by urban planner Nathaniel Einseidel, who said the Philippines had enough technical know-how, and access to financing, to solve the ongoing flood problems.

"It's a lack of appreciation for the benefits of long-term plans. It's a vicious cycle when the planning, the policies and enforcement are not very well synchronised," said Mr Einseidel, who was Manila's planning chief from 1979-89.

Senator Legarda, who is also her country's Senate Chair for the Committee on Climate Change, praised local communities for pioneering disaster resilience initiatives under "dynamic leaders," indicating that the national government should use them as examples for how to implement disaster risk reduction policies more effectively.

"If Hinatuan and Camotes Island can effectively enforce our environmental laws, there is no reason for a town, city or province to say that it cannot be done," she said.

Camotes Island, in the Philippine province of Cebu, has become a model for disaster risk reduction, with one of its municipalities, the town of San Francisco, winning the 2011 UN Sasakawa award for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The citizens of San Francisco were recognized by the international community for using the Purok system -- a traditional method of self-organization within villages -- as a way to build the capacity of everyday people to head off potential hazards.

Through the Purok system, San Francisco residents have taken ownership over the city's waste management system, separating their trash according to a strict "no trash segregation-no collection" policy and clearing clogged drains.

Led by former Mayor Al Arquillano, the people of San Francisco are protecting local watersheds by planting native trees along the coast -- tugas, ipil, buyos, nagtalisay and talamban -- as part of an income-generating scheme called the "Two Million Trees" project.

Senator Legarda also cited the people of Hinatuan, in the province of Surigao del Norte, who have been implementing an effective solid waste management programme since 2008. Through the programme, residents cleared clogged canals, cleaned their surroundings and seawater, and regulated the use of plastic.

"Their success stories encourage us to not to wait for the next disaster to strike, but instead act decisively, now," she stressed.

"Ultimately, the best choice we have is to make our nation disaster-resilient to free us, once and for all, from the exhausting and costly cycle of rebuilding our communities every single time nature unleashes its wrath. We need to be the change we seek."

Dovetailing with Senator Legarda's call for change, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has begun a round of consultations on a new global framework for disaster risk reduction, which is expected to take over when the current action plan, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities, comes to a close in 2015.

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