Exploring possibilities to collaborate and network for disaster risk reduction

Challenges of coastal relocation in Culion, Palawan, Philippines. Photo credit: P Walpole
Challenges of coastal relocation in Culion, Palawan, Philippines. Photo credit: P Walpole

Pedro Walpole, SJ

In a recent consultation to explore possibilities for collaboration and networking on disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts, organized as a colloquium of the Society of Jesus Social Apostolate (SJSA), the reports from the various Jesuit institutions in the Philippine Province show a tremendous and impressive array of responses that allow us get together, act and collaborate more broadly within and outside Jesuit institutions, and move beyond the traditional social apostolate.

Universities, research organizations, and social service groups shared initiatives and ongoing efforts in responding to and acting on the social and environmental concerns in post-disaster situations. There are also responses that focus on preparedness and pre-disaster situations or the period I refer to as “ordinary time” as part of the proposed phases of a DRR protocol for Jesuit institutions.

Throughout the country, people are doing many things and Jesuit institutions are collaborating in river basin mapping, hourly stream monitoring for flood early warning, preparing rainfall, drought, and weather bulletins, exposure and vulnerability mapping, organizing DRR teams and humanitarian and emergency response teams, participating in broader national and local government DRR response efforts through the Philippine Working Group on disaster risk resilience, contributing to reconstruction of schools and day care centres, creation of safety committees, enabling community-based DRR in dioceses, reinforcing coastal resource management and the adaptations needed in small island systems challenged with the impacts of climate change, assessments of disaster risk and landscapes where housing and relocation sites are to be established, creating a community-based multi-faceted tool on disaster risk assessment, facilitating and informing people’s planning processes for voluntary relocation, preparation of DRR training manuals, assisting local governments on participatory decision-making and climate-proofing their land and water use planning, and development of DRR protocols.

People shared about exploring new ways of working with local governments, and we are working with communities and letting communities work for us. We are also increasingly learning in a broader way to work with the natural world, understanding how nature has its ambivalence and that we need to work with this ambivalence. There is also the need to respond not only in areas of disaster but to work with the creativity of the world in ways that regenerate us and give us hope.

The challenges of the next 30 years are still beyond the horizon of many of the people we work with, and we have an opportunity at this time to understand and take up the concerns of the coming generation who face the next 30 years.

This is an evolving process of learning since November 1991 when disastrous floods due to tropical storm Uring (Thelma) hit Ormoc in Leyte Province. In November 2004, typhoon Unding (Muifa), tropical storm Violeta (Merbok), tropical depression Winnie, and typhoon Yoyong (Nanmadol) unleashed 20 days of non-stop rain over the east coast of Luzon. In September 2009, typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) caused widespread flooding in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon as tropical storm Sendong (Washi) washed out major parts of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan Cities in northern Mindanao in December 2011. Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) last November 2013 moved a global appreciation of the intensity and impact of extreme events in vulnerable and high-risk countries such as the Philippines.

One amongst many, Jesuit institutions together are responding, actively participating, and contributing to DRR efforts, but there is still a need to develop a DRR protocol that requires networking and collaboration. At the moment, there are two things we are challenged with: capabilities and communication.

The phases of the DRR protocol as developed by the Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific are incorporating revisions that attempt to realistically reflect the efforts and needs in building back better, the reworking to be done in our cities and provinces, and the education needed by the participating public. There are institutions that have internalized these but there is still the need to increasingly communicate and to scale up capacities at the local level.

There is also need for a coherent set of standards in measuring, in designing and building, in the use of appropriate construction materials. We are understanding what resilience is, what building back is, and what better means.

Typhoon Yolanda took the roof off of 50 years of poverty in Leyte and Samar and showed up the difficulty of livelihoods. These are our biggest problems in or out of disasters: the livelihood and skills needs and for which capacities have to be created. Capacity is becoming a structured element of sustainability and is a key element of socio-economic inclusion. It will be valuable to reflect these with other countries.

In understanding the role of the watershed, the infiltration and the restriction of water, the strength of winds, the hazards inherent in an area, at some point people need to understand that the roof has to go and that people have to move out way before the event.

Father Provincial Antonio Moreno, who stayed with the colloquium group for one and a half days, acknowledged that it is sometimes easier to work singly than as a group. But SJSA is a network and must not be in the margins as the social sector is critical. Boundaries and invisible walls have to be broken down. He exhorted the Jesuit institutions to contribute to the Province’s roadmap, and to go beyond planning. He asks us to “partner or perish.” The new challenges of responding effectively to DRR “cannot be accomplished by prayer as God’s challenge is for us to act” if we are to move forward.

Typhoon Yolanda raised a national, regional, and global agenda of the need to develop a DRR response and a protocol that allows us move efficiently in an integrated and coherent way, in assessing the scales of response, in upholding the values of solidarity, subsidiarity, partnership, transparency, accountability, and the Philippines is a point of information. And for this, pre-disaster preparations and the coordinating structure to manage are critical in implementing a protocol. Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan went as far as Culion, Palawan to provide support for communities affected by typhoon Yolanda and has a major role in coordinating Jesuit engagement on the ground with multiple partners.

The language of the colloquium is “response and listening to the responses” and this is really a transformative learning and deepening of compassion. We continue to keep listening and walking with people, we continue to learn with compassion, gratitude, urgency, and also about how to deal with failure.

This is the source of gratitude, of working closely with others, of seeing not just the power of the natural systems and respecting these, but of knowing the creative and nurturing regrowth of the landscape where people live and must learn to wonder at the beauty of creation and our part in this.

There is also evident a broader sense of spirituality, otherwise we work only with rhetoric and flowcharts. Our spirituality is one of gratitude and hope, of life and diversity, of compassion and service, of celebration and depth of life.

This growing networking is strengthening the Jesuit network of partners in the Philippine context far beyond policy and politics of the social agendas of the past. This is a synergy to work together, knowing our physical environment, learning from what is already emerging, integrating in our daily work in the world, and strengthening capacities and communications.

All these help us respond more humbly and with a deeper sense of need, sustainability, and sensitivity, leading towards a greater simplicity and depth as to how we live as a society. Though there is much insecurity and uncertainty as we face a changing climate, there is also much deeper solidarity and meaningful hope.


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