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The need to innovate towards a disaster – resilient Baguio
by Jane Cadalig

Safe. Adaptive. Resilient communities. Good governance. Innovation. Unity. Cooperation. Collaboration.

These are the keywords that are often mentioned when stakeholders gather and discuss about disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM). The first three words are the envisioned results of efficient DRRM plans and programs to be implemented by the government, in partnership with the private sector and civil society groups, and with the cooperation of the communities, for whom DRR programs and projects are intended.

In keeping with one of the core agenda of the new set of Baguio City officials, which is to establish an efficient DRRM, this topic in the Baguio Day supplement of the Courier presents, among other things, programs that are already in place and the administration’s DRRM visions. Other perspectives and some practices are also presented for Baguio leaders and residents to consider in policymaking and in coming with initiatives to achieve the ultimate goal of DRRM – to build resilient communities towards a disaster-resilient Philippines.

BUILDING A RESILIENT CITY -- The city government envisions an efficient disaster risk reduction management by working, among other things, for the establishment of socialized housing to dissuade informal settlers from constructing houses in geo-hazard areas and in sites prone to flooding. -- Harley F. Palangchao



According to the Hyogo Framework for Action, disaster resilience is determined by the degree to which individuals, communities, and public and private organizations are capable of organizing themselves to learn from past disasters and reduce their risks to future ones, at international, regional, national, and local levels.

The Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted by United Nations General Assembly in 2005, is the first plan to explain, describe, and detail the work different sectors and actors must do to reduce losses caused by disasters. It was the basis for the passage of Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine DRRM Act.

Investing on DRR as part of good governance

The DRRM Act has overhauled the manner by which local governments respond to disasters. From a reactive approach, national government agencies and local government units are now mandated to institute measures before a disaster strikes to prevent loss of lives and minimize damage to properties. The law mandated LGUs to invest in DRR. They are now required to create their DRRM plans to be funded under their annual budget. This also means they must create their respective DRRM offices, the main office that will implement the DRRM plans.

For Baguio City, the 2019 DRRM fund is P91,625,000, an amount divided into the four thematic areas of disaster management – prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and rehabilitation and recovery.

Glenn Lardizabal, research and planning officer of the City DRRMO, said bulk of the fund is allotted for preparedness and mitigation.

Among other things, the P39,937,500 allotted for disaster preparedness and mitigation has been programmed for training of barangays, procurement of equipment and early warning systems, procurement of relief goods, strengthening of communication systems, and construction of evacuation centers in the barangays.

From the city’s more than P91M DRRM fund, P8,300,000 is allotted for disaster prevention and mitigation; P13,200,000 for rehabilitation and recovery; and P30,187,000 is for disaster response, which includes the quick response fund (QRF). The QRF is accessed only when a locality is declared under a state of calamity. All the other allocations under the DRRM fund can be accessed and must be used for the plans, programs, and activities that are specified in the local DRRM plan.

Change in mindset

Aside from sound financing, effective and efficient disaster management must also involve improving or modifying existing mechanisms to address issues or concerns that may not be DRR-related, but have huge impacts or that may stall the achievement of the goal to build disaster-resilient communities.

Sanny Jegillos, DRR and Recovery team leader of the United Nations Development Programme in Asia Pacific Region, said policymakers must realize that disaster risk has now become a complex issue.

In his message during the national disaster resilience summit organized by the National DRRM Council, through the Office of the Civil Defense, which was held in Quezon City recently, Jegillos said disaster risks should no longer be confined to knowing the occurrence of hazards alone, but must also be viewed on how other social issues affect the communities’ exposure and vulnerability to hazards.

Among other examples, Jegillos said policymakers need to consider the potential effects of their economic growth policies to the environment, because disregard of which may increase the exposure of private and public investments to hazards.

Another factor that must be considered is the relationship of poverty to disaster risks. As Jegillos put it, hazard exposure increases as the number of people that do not have access or could not access basic government services increases.

“We have to look at the poverty and disaster risk nexus. If a lot could not access basic services, many will have no choice but to live in high-risk areas. This is why we need to have a different way of understanding the complexities of (disaster) risks,” he said.

Aside from confronting disaster risks in the context of poverty reduction, Jegillos said policymakers should understand that the changing climate also warrants a modification in DRR practices.

“With climate change, disasters have become unpredictable and uncertain. The past is no longer a good predictor of the disasters that can happen in the future,” he said.

Jegillos added investing in non-DRR-related agenda such as poverty reduction can bring resilience and reduce disaster risks.

How the city government addresses challenges in DRRM

Although not the first LGU in the country to establish an operations center patterned after U.S.A.’s 911, Baguio City is on its way to realizing the put-up of a command center designed to facilitate response during emergencies.

Passionate about instituting proactive measures in disaster management, Mayor Benjamin Magalong has succeeded in looking for resources to establish an integrated command center to be accommodated at the CDRRMO building at Barangay Rock Quarry.

Magalong said the area for the command center, a room at the three-story CDRRMO building, was already inspected by concerned agencies and firms that will be in charge of installing the equipment for the center’s operations.

The mayor is positive that the national government will provide the funds to realize the project.

“It was the President (Rodrigo Duterte) who said the government will provide funds for the command center,” Magalong said in a media interview during the joint Regional Development Council and Regional Peace and Order Council meeting recently.

Lardizabal said the establishment of an integrated incident command center will further enhance the city’s emergency response abilities.

The integrated command center will accommodate at least four frontliners – emergency medical services, the Bureau of Fire, the local police, and the DRRMO, said Lardizabal.

The command center will receive calls for emergency, whether medical, peace and order, or a hazard and dispatch the appropriate response teams.

“With the mayor’s political will, we are positive that the center will be established soon,” Lardizabal said.

In addressing social problems that expose Baguio communities to hazards, Magalong is pushing for the establishment of low-cost housing to discourage informal settlers from creeping into the city’s watersheds and from establishing dwellings along river easements, which are prone to flashfloods and in geo-hazard areas.

“If we want to address our problem on informal settlers, we need to establish socialized housing. If we want to recover our river easements, which are now occupied by informal settlers, and address the plight of residents dwelling on geo-hazard areas, we need to provide socialized housing. In poverty reduction, one of the pillars is socialized housing,” Magalong said in one of his media briefings.

To ensure efficient disaster management, Magalong said it is high time Baguio builds a culture of disaster preparedness.

In the city’s DRRM plan, among the projects funded under the P39.9M budget for disaster preparedness is the construction of evacuation centers at Loakan-Apugan and Camp 8 barangays.

The CDRRMO building has been identified as the city’s evacuation center. Lardizabal, however, said there is a need to bring the evacuation centers closer to the communities as it would be impractical for families living several miles away to be seeking shelter at the CDRRMO.

Efficient DRRM through unity and cooperation

Although DRRM programs are crafted primarily for the benefit of the barangays, getting the grassroots’ cooperation can be quite challenging.

In the city, the challenge is especially true when it comes to getting the commitment of barangay officials and residents to participate in initiatives aimed at enhancing their capacity to respond to an emergency or simply, their ability to address a hazard.

Since 2013, Lardizabal said the office, in cooperation with other members of the city DRRM council, has been conducting grassroots training on disaster management.

He said grassroots empowerment does not mean the barangay officials or the residents will be left on their own to respond to emergencies or deal with the hazards in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

“We want to strengthen the DRRM capacity of the barangays since they are supposed to be the first responders during an emergency. We will still assist them and provide the support they need, but first, they must be able to provide immediate response,” Lardizabal said.

One of the few empowered barangays, according to Lardizabal, is Atok Trail. “The barangay first addresses the emergency. They only call us to inform that their area was affected by a hazard and that they have already addressed it.”

Under the DRRM law, the Barangay Development Council should take the lead in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the effects of a disaster when only such barangay is affected. The ity or municipal disaster risk reduction councils (DRRMCs) meanwhile should be mobilized if two or more barangays are affected by a disaster. In the case of provinces, the provincial DRRMC is activated when two or more towns are affected by a disaster.

Lardizabal said one of the reasons why a lot of residents remain dependent on the DRRMO is the lack of commitment from barangay officials to attend and complete the DRRM training sessions, which usually last for days. An added challenge is the fact that the participants in DRRM trainings are constantly changing, which impinges on the ability of the barangay to establish their DRR practices.

As a result, a lot of barangays turn to the CDRRMO for help even at the slightest impacts of hazard in their areas.

Lardizabal hopes that the barangays realize the important role they play in DRRM and be involved in capacity-building initiatives.

Collaboration

The contribution of civil society organizations (CSOs), non-government organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and volunteers in disaster management has been highlighted as the country embraced a paradigm shift on DRRM.

The DRRM law mandated the inclusion of CSOs and the private sector in all aspects of DRRM – from planning to implementation. It provides: “CSOs and the private sector play key formal and informal roles in effective DRRM. They complement and enhance the government’s resources and efforts in implementing DRRM.”

Having volunteers at the city level has never been a concern for Baguio, although for Lardizabal, the most practical way still to ensure immediate response is the empowerment of the barangays.

Some of the volunteer groups that complement the city DRRMC are the Baguio-Benguet Public Information and Civic Action Group and Rescue 911-on-Call.

Other private firms, such as the Benguet Electric Cooperative and private business establishments, also mobilize their manpower and lend their resources during emergencies.

Zenaida Willison, president of the Center for Disaster Preparedness (CDP), said the shift in the relationship bet-ween government agencies and NGOs has been helpful in establishing collaboration or partnerships towards building resilient communities.

In the past, the relationship between the government and NGOs was antagonistic. “Before, the government thought that all the NGOs are rebels, that they are all subversive. On the other hand, the NGOs thought that all government agencies are corrupt,” said Willison, who spoke on the roles of the communities, also during the summit on disaster resilience.

Willison added the change in the landscape is now seeing the cooperation between the government and the CSOs NGOs working together in various DRRM initiatives.

HAZARD -- Communities in Baguio are exposed to several natural hazards, such as landslides, that cause economic losses to both the government and the private sector.  -- Ofelia C. Empian



What Baguio can learn from a best practice in DRRM

To further encourage LGUs, CSOs/NGOs, and the private sector to establish mechanisms or continue innovating to build disaster-resilient communities, the OCD has been spearheading the Gawad Kalasag aimed at showcasing and rewarding DRRM initiatives.

For LGUs, the manner by which they institutionalize DRRM and come up with innovations matter a lot to warrant a Gawad Kalasag award.

So far for Baguio, the University of the Cordilleras has been a consistent regional winner and one the region’s bets to the Gawad Kalasag national awards in recent years.

During the national DRR summit, Santiago City in Isabela, a Gawad Kalasag hall-of-fame awardee, showcased the initiatives of the city government in DRRM.

Santiago City DRRM Officer Julius Agustin said aside from ensuring a budget for DRRM programs and establishing protocol systems and ensuring adequate equipment, the LGU revisited its purpose on why, in the first place, was it complying with the criteria to win in the Gawag Kalasag search.

He said aside from focusing on its compliance to the criteria for the award, the city government made sure that all sectors are involved in DRRM.

Instead of merely confining the DRRM systems and protocols to the offices of the LGU and in the barangay halls, the city government should maximized the use of technology and involved people in the communities and transformed their mindset about DRRM.

He said on risk assessment, Santiago City integrated Geographic Information System to track families living in houses made of light materials. Through the GIS, the city government would also know other significant data about the household such as the head of the family, if there are pregnant women or person with disability in the household, and the age bracket of the family members.

“We could also access data on livestock and the economic situation of households through the GIS,” he said.

The city government also helps other agencies gather data through the GIS.

“For instance, the Santiago City Medical Center used our GIS to map patients in preparation for the Universal Health Bill coverage,” he said.

On disaster preparation, he said the city government, among other things, has 37 emergency vehicles.

“We also take pride in being the first LGU in the country to produce a book about DRRM for kindergarten pupils to grade 10 students. This year, the ratio of the book to student is 1:1,” said Agustin.

For sustainability, he said Santiago City has 1,290 barangay DRRM workers and 1,219 climate change adaptation workers.

Masasabi natin na personalized na ang DRRM efforts natin. Every DRRM and climate change adaptation worker is assigned to 27 to 30 households. They regularly visit these households to ensure their safety,” he said.

In the schools, the city government was also able to organize DRRM youth organizations, inspired by the YES-O of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “These DRRM youth organizations in schools, with their advisers have federated.”

He shared Santiago City Mayor Joseph Salvador Tan’s message in being a hall-of-fame awardee in DRRM: “The Gawad Kalasag shield is not an armor that we put around us to make us safe. Rather, it is a culture that must be digested by all and must be shared (to other LGUs and stakeholders).”

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, who is also the chair of the national DRRMC, the goal of all the DRRM efforts has always been to ensure that the public is informed, capacitated, and trained on what to do before, during, and after a calamity with innovative DRRM initiatives, programs, and interventions implemented through a collaborative and cooperative work between the government, CSOs/NGOs, and the private sector all over the country.

This way, he said, the ultimate goal to have safe, adaptive, and resilient communities towards a disaster-resilient Philippines can be achieved.
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