Recent reports from three UN agencies revealing the Philippines’ higher risks from climate change render more crucial to survival the plan to position the Philippine Atmospherical Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration (PAGASA) under the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).
In separate reports, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have all categorized the Philippines to be at a higher risk to weather events spawned by climate change.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, House Ways and Means Committee chair and principal author of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) bill now pending in Congress, said the situation renders forecasting and early warning — more than ever — as a most critical factor to the disaster resilience program, and vital to the entire country’s survival.
“This finding renders the inclusion of the Philippine Atmospherical, Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration (PAGASA) into the proposed DDR a matter of vital necessity for national survival,” he noted. The DDR proposal is marked as a vital legislation following a series of earthquakes that rocked Mindanao recently. Senate officials said Congress could pass the proposal — certified urgent by President Duterte — before the Christmas break.
The bill proposes the transfer of PAGASA and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), presently under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), to the DDR among several other government agencies, to harmonize disaster risk assessment, reduction and mitigation, warning and response, along with relief, retrieval and rehabilitation under one roof.
Salceda, said PAGASA is vital to the DDR to “guarantee unity of command, and science-based approach to and full-time focus on natural hazards and, even human-induced, disasters.” He cited the most recent cases of severe weather disturbances like Super typhoons Mangkhut or Ompong, which hit the country last year, which killed at least 134 people and affected over 2.4 million more; and Haiyan or Yolanda, which devastated the Philippines in 2013 and killed 6,340 people. For its disaster’s magnitude and the lessons it taught Filipinos, the House of Representatives passed HB 4960 declaring November 8 as Yolanda Commemoration Day, a special non-working holiday in Eastern Visayas.
As proposed, the DDR will be a full-blown department headed by a Secretary, supported by undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and directors. It will have the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) as its core organization to which will be integrated the Climate Change Commission Office, the DENR’s Geo-Hazard Assessment and Engineering Geology Section of the Mines of the Geosciences Bureau, the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the DOH, the Disaster Response Assistance and Management Bureau of DSWD, and the DILG’s Bureau of Fire Protection.
Quoting a report from the WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in Geneva, dated March 28, 2019, Salceda said the “physical signs and socio-economic impacts of climate change are accelerating as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.”
“Climate science has achieved an unprecedented degree of robustness, providing authoritative evidences of global temperature increase and associated features such as accelerating sea level rise, shrinking sea ice, glacier retreat and extreme events such as heat waves,” the WMO report added. It details climate-related risks and impacts on human health and welfare, migration and displacement, food security, the environment and ocean and land-based ecosystems which affected nearly 62 million people in 2018. Floods have affected more than 35 million people, according to an analysis of 281 events by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) and the UNISDRR, which cited Hurricanes Florence and Michael as “billion dollar disasters” in 2018 in the US. They triggered around US$49 billion in damages and over 100 deaths.
The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme noted that the number of undernourished people had increased to 821 million, partly due to severe droughts associated with the strong El Niño of 2015–2016. Impact of sea level rise on coastal communities and coastal economies were also recorded. The IIPCC special report on global warming stressed: “There is no longer any time for delay, and understanding the impacts of climate change on sustainable development goals and the socio-economic consequences of increasingly intense extreme weather on countries around the world have become crucial.”
President Duterte has endorsed the DDR creation in his past SONAs. The House passed the DDR proposal in the 17th Congress but it failed to hurdle the Senate due to time constrains imposed by the 2018 elections. Salceda had refiled the measure in the 18th Congress as HB 30. As conceived the DDR shall “guarantee unity of command, and science-based approach to, and full-time focus on natural hazards and, even human-induced disasters.”
The DDR is envisioned as the primary government agency that “shall be responsible, accountable, and liable for leading, managing, and organizing national efforts to prevent and reduce disaster risks; prepare for and respond to disasters; and recover, rehabilitate, and build forward better after the destruction.”
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