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Resilience on the ground

It is easy to theorize about what went wrong when typhoon Yolanda swept through the central Philippines in November last year.

What is daunting is the task of putting the Yolanda experience in the context of the individual situations of each hard -hit community, in relation to the loss of lives and damage to property and livelihood that ensued.

Policies and programs hatched in the macro level serve a purpose but will be meaningless if not cascaded to, and implemented by, the local government units, specifically in the city/municipal and barangay levels.

Last week’s gathering of more than a hundred civil society organizations in Cebu City for a summit on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation highlighted the need for addressing gaps in the law and for seeing the occurrence of disasters like Yolanda not as extraordinary events but as a harbinger of the “new normal” brought about by the warming of the planet.

Passed in 2010, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act calls for a wholistic, proactive and multi-sectoral approach to disasters with the end in view of building the resilience of citizens and communities. The law will undergo a sunset review next year.

The thousands of local government units have drawn up their own disaster risk reduction plans—and built up their own capacities—in varying degrees. Still, nothing quite prepared them for the ferocity of typhoon Yolanda, which killed more than 6,000 with nearly 1,800 still missing. Fourteen million Filipinos across 36 provinces were affected; more than 1 million homes were lost.

The law emphasizes that building resilience is not just the responsibility of the national and local government but of various sectors: the communities themselves, the private sector, media and civil society including non-government organizations, professional organizations, foundations, independent research institutes, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, social movements and labor unions.

Much of the resulting events have been knee-jerk reactions to the magnitude of the disaster. Blame tossing became common instead of smooth coordination across various levels of different agencies, in both the national and local government levels. Politicking, intrigue-sowing, and self-righteous posturing have also marred what was supposed to be an undertaking of groups and individuals of whatever political stripe.

Yolanda will not be the last disaster that will visit our country. Building back better does not only mean making sure that infrastructure and other buildings could withstand the lashes of nature. It also refers to the empowerment of people and communities to anticipate the dangers that may come upon them, plan how best they could shield themselves from it, respond in a deliberate manner and arm themselves so that they could restore their way of living as soon as possible when the disaster does strike.

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