"Let’s do our part while we still can."
On top of the health and economic disaster of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has become a year of natural calamities that hit all regions of the country. Published reports place estimates of some nine million of our population were affected.
In January there was the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano. This was followed by Typhoon Ambo in May and then a magnitude 6.6 Masbate earthquake that heavily damaged buildings. Still fresh in our memories are the back-to-back typhoons Rolly and Ulysses that caused unprecedented flooding hitting hard the provinces in Region V, Cagayan Valley and Marikina including many low-lying areas in Metro Manila.
Of the eight most damaging natural disasters of 2020, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council’s data estimates total damage well over P45.4 billion! About half of that from typhoon Ulysses (P20.1 billion) while typhoon Rolly’s damage was worth P17.8 billion.
Being ranked the 9th most vulnerable country in the 2020 World Risk index of disasters, a reality we have been living with even before the term climate change was being used, you would think that our government resources would have reached a sophisticated level of resilience by now. But obviously we are far from it.
The interlinking dimensions of public health, environment, economy, governance, and public-private cooperation towards recovering from this global crisis was rightly highlighted during the recently held Pilipinas Conference session on “Green Economic Recovery” hosted by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute.
The institute’s President, Prof. Dindo Manhit, stated that the Philippines’ disaster resilience policies remain reactionary rather than anticipatory in its attempt to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.
“Climate change is a long-term threat that has and will continue to endanger the planet’s survival. Due to this problem’s multi-sectoral nature, all stakeholders must take part in the solution. Only with a whole-of-society approach can this desired outcome be achieved, and swiftly integrate genuine sustainability into all aspects of peoples’ lives,” Manhit said.
In the same forum, Environment Undersecretary Analiza Teh said that we must step up investment in preparedness now, instead of waiting for the next crisis to hit.
Teh said: “The choice is clear, either delay and pay or plan and prosper. We know that investing in natural disaster preparedness is worth it, both in human lives and economic returns.”
She recommended more government investments in better collection and analysis of data of the disaster risk because having storm warnings of at 24 hours’ can cut resulting losses by 30 percent and that spending $800 million on early warning systems could actually save $16 billion a year.
“Community resilience must be at the heart of a green recovery, and it requires integrating sustainable measures in government policies, programs and plans to achieve transformational changes in health, climate, environment, and eradication of poverty,” Teh said.
Dr. Deo Florence Onda, Deputy Director for Research of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, raised an interesting perspective on the government’s ability to translate scientific research to policy stating that there is a big gap between the public and the scientists.
“There should be citizen-led science. It allows the public to get direct information from data gathering and there’s a certain level of data ownership, enabling them to be directly connected to the science.
Dr. Onda suggested that trust should be built between the scientists and the public and that scientists, though good researchers, need to become good communicators.
In support of Dr. Onda, Dr. Mahar Lagmay, Executive Director of Project NOAH, stressed the need for more scientists in the government and pointed out though there are enough environmental policies in place such as the Clean Air Act, Water code, Building Code, etc. But enforcement is a problem because of the lack of data as basis for prosecution and pin-pointing problems.
For his part, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso recognized the critical role of the private sector in helping government protect the environment and creating programs that can be sustained for many generations. He vowed to work with the DENR to clean Manila Bay and go after violators of environmental laws.
The message of the environment advocates of this forum is clear. We must act now in building resilient and sustainable communities thru an all of society, public and private sector partnership that can harness science and technology in an open data environment that supports a green economic recovery strategy.
Now that we are seeing COVID 19 vaccines being deployed, there is a growing optimism that a global herd immunity will be achieved in a year or two. The existential threat of climate change, however, is growing fast and will come to a point where it will be beyond human control.
Let’s all do our part while we still can.