Collaborative response in disaster risk reduction

Collaborative response in disaster risk reduction

Coastal housing in the mangrove areas in Ormoc City, Leyte needs revision. The defoliated mangrove in the background raises many questions about the need for serious land use planning. Photo credit: P. Walpole

Pedro Walpole, SJ

As we enter the next phases of post-disaster response in relation to typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), we are called to ask ourselves what is the commitment and the quality of such commitment as we explore possible collaboration and contributions of Jesuit institutions in post-typhoon rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. The commitment may occur with key government officials who have responsibility for this task, with multilateral financing and development institutions, with civil society groups of professionals and from the private sector.

This is also an occasion to reflect on our accountability in contributing to ongoing efforts in rehabilitation, reconstruction, and re-design where people can build homes anew and live and work in safe structures, pursue a livelihood that can secure their needs, engage with local government to ensure that basic services are present.

Typhoon Yolanda and its aftermath brought forth some lessons learnt:

1. Typhoon Yolanda is a sign of the times and is within our scope of action.

Yolanda was the “ideal” storm in that it developed for six days and rode uninterrupted on a cushion of warm water across the Pacific. And yet, the preparations were not there. There were six days warning prior to the typhoon’s landfall. There was much made of the strength and speed of the winds, yet we must take note that Yolanda’s sustained winds, at its peak, stood at 315 kph (195 mph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, and were only 37 kph faster than Hurricane Katrina, that had 278 kph (173 mph) sustained winds, using data from the National Hurricane Center.

There were success stories of local mayors who did forced evacuation and were successful in doing so such as Maydolong, Eastern Samar where there were 400 houses totally damaged but zero casualties and Kananga, Leyte where there were forced evacuation and the casualties were those who resisted. This was a situation that was within our scope to manage.

2. We responded, but critical decisions needed to be made.

Emergency preparedness, relocation and land allocation, housing standards and livelihoods, landscape and waterscape planning and development, floodplain management – all these essentially require local government and the capacities needed to enable more effective decision-making must be identified and strengthened. Pedro Walpole and Roberto Yap, in an earlier commentary  after tropical storm Sendong (international Washi) struck northern Mindanao in December 2011, discussed the strategic demands to bring about change and reduce the risks to flash flooding.

The coconut industry needs to be rebuilt not just with coconuts, but with investments and ingenuity that will give better opportunity to the people of the islands of Leyte and Samar, and better economic and environmental security. These coconuts are in Isabel, a town on the west side of Leyte Province. Photo credit: P. Walpole

3. What is critical?

Infrastructure, roads and bridges, drainage, communication channels, power, water are a major focus in infrastructure rehabilitation. But there is also the need to re-build, and for the marginal areas even before the typhoon, the need to create, economic structures of incorporation for communities, especially the poorest. Livelihoods in rural areas are dependent on natural resources such as fishing and farming, and both were washed out by the storm. These are livelihoods that depend on fishing boats and coconuts, industries that have not advanced poor communities.

4. We need reality checks and come up to speed.

Typhoon Ondoy (international Ketsana) in September 2009 was an event that was able to fix a consensus for Metro Manila. The impact of Ondoy made it clear that we needed to act and find strategic steps so that this would not happen again.

Yolanda should serve the same in fixing in the national mind a consensus of the need for government to be present to local communities. Local communities cannot be left to sort things out on their own.

5. What was revealed on the ground is the prevailing subsistence and poverty.

Rubble found along the shoreline in Tacloban City and many other towns in Leyte and in Samar, is not simply the debris from a super typhoon. Yolanda tore the covers off the situation of sustained poverty in which people are living in for decades. We must change the norms of how we regard people and their safety.

Post-Yolanda efforts have a focus of three stages: immediate relief, and medium- and long-term response and rehabilitation such as building shelters, providing services, establishing livelihoods, and then deepening that response for the long-term change. For the latter, the first three months can focus on basic vegetable production, and the next two to five years can focus on rebuilding livelihoods for those engaged in coconut farming and fishing. Greater economic participation and industry needs to be re-built.

6. ESSC’s collaborations

The Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) is a Jesuit research organization currently responding to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience concerns and being drawn in to discussions and requests for technical assistance and landscape analysis. ESSC is currently engaging with various organizations such as: Habitat for Humanity-Philippines for assessments for safe relocation and resettlement sites, Homeless Peoples’ Federation of the Philippines for technical training for site assessment and selection, Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan for mapping for DRR and hazard and evacuation plans for Barangay Payatas in Quezon City, the Quiapo Parish and its disaster risk reduction and management ministry to understand flooding events in the area and develop local protocols for safe evacuation that can also be a basis for adapting in other parishes, Hilti Foundation and ESCAP for assistance in strengthening site assessment and site development and planning for relocation areas and exploring alternative construction materials for sustainable housing, and the World Bank for planning and housing assessment with local government.

The daily chores go on amongst the clean-up and the time for redesign calls us to place these people out of harm’s way. Photo credit: P. Walpole

ESSC is also facilitating and coordinating the Philippine Working Group (PWG) on disaster risk resilience, a small think-tank initiative that gathers on occasion various stakeholders, including government, to discuss and develop action responses to environmental concerns. Previously, PWG meetings were undertaken to draw attention to community concerns on forest management and resource use and access, Indigenous Peoples and ancestral domain management, where policy and people and process are worked with so that there is coherence and cohesion. Currently, the PWG agenda is focused on exploring with key government agencies, local governments, development and assisting institutions, media, and the academe how reconstruction and rehabilitation can be improved through safe housing, providing guidelines for improved site assessment and better site development and planning, capacitating local governments towards disaster-proof land and water use planning, and strengthening local organizations and communities in negotiating for safer land allocation, sturdy and safe housing and construction materials. Sharper and more practical analysis of extreme climate events that are occurring in the country is also shared, especially with key media contacts so that Philippine society is better informed and there is minimal speculation and improved decision-making.

7. Site assessment is critical in post-rehabilitation efforts.

Four critical factors are identified in relation to housing development, namely: safety and resilience, accessibility and social and economic integration, inclusive and participatory planning and decision-making, and innovation and adaptation.

8. We need to learn about rainfall and climatic events and understand the meteorology and the landscape, and the nuances that can make each event distinct but not a total surprise.

Extreme rainfall need not be due to typhoons; monsoon rains caused the flooding in August 2012 in Metro Manila and other areas in Luzon. A 10-day accumulation of rainfall needs to be monitored as a useful indicator for early warning and evacuation purposes for each watershed. Different climatic and different watershed types will have different results. Sea level change is not simply a permanent level rise with the melting of ice, but is also tropical and can be short-term. In our activities, land subsidence is greatest due to water withdrawal from aquifers and is greater than sea level rise.

9. We need to have a second take before we jump.

As we respond, we need to step back and objectively evaluate and ensure that our efforts are responding to the following:

a. Safety – people want insurance of safety, and is why so many people want to help, and safety is how we must evaluate what we do.
b. Quality – which is strategy, substance, and sustainability. The response also has to be practical.
c. Capacity – this is in terms of government capacity in planning and implementation and where, at the same time, the political reform is achieved.

10. We are proposing the following strategies and area responses.

The next steps of action involve area assessments, followed by review of local government capacity and willingness. In post disaster planning, there is also the capacity for community negotiation that must be strengthened, and enable the development of appropriate local ordinances and their implementation. Initial areas identified for collaborative work are:

  • 1 municipality in Palawan: Culion
  • 3 municipalities in Leyte: La Paz, Julita and Tabon Tabon
  • 1 municipality in Samar: Basey
  • 1 municipality in Eastern Samar: Maydolong

In all these, there is a presumption of capacity and capability and we must be able to identify where we are strong and where we are limited. We must be able to apply the lessons learnt and use these to ensure that when the next climate event comes in, we are better prepared and that no lives are lost. We must ensure that our efforts are:

  • Building awareness that draws a response
  • Sustainable and have long-term uses and impact
  • Adapting to the environmental and social realities
  • Strengthening local capacities and engendering political reform
  • Practical and responsive to people’s needs
  • Integrating with local government efforts
  • Moving institutions to levels of collaboration

Typhoon Yolanda and those who perished provided us a painful opportunity to learn. People died so that others may live and there is no greater sacrifice. It will be a great disservice to those who perished if we do not learn from this experience. It is a gift of life and we need to muster all our energies and our human creativity so that we respond better and we are better prepared.

For further information about JCAP DRR Protocol , the program brochure can be accessed here


3 thoughts on “Collaborative response in disaster risk reduction

    1. Dear John,
      thanks for your interest, the work continues; Yolanda has made its mark on the mental compass of the Philippines, I think now we will have a more continuous action to response with more preparedness to the millions of people so vulnerable. I am just back from Culion Islands where we have been assessing the relocation of several villages to 40 meters from the high tide mark and ideally 100 meters from mountain slopes, that leaves us with very little or no land on many islands. Meanwhile secure daily clean water supply is a need while the coastal waters are cleared out by commercial fishing and communities at best have a subsistence livelihood. Climate security, water and livelihood is our challenge for the next 20 years and is certainly part of mission and identity for us,
      with much thanks,

  1. Dear Peter,

    Thank you for your analysis of the lessons that need to be learned from Yolanda. Blessings on your labors.

    john staudenmaier sj
    Assistant to the President for Mission & Identity
    The University of Detroit Mercy
    Detroit, MI USA

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