Urban governance undermines risk reduction in the Philippines

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Date: 30 Jan 2013

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific (UNISDR AP)

GENEVA, 30 January 31 - A new report acknowledges the Philippines as a global leader in enacting legislation on disaster risk reduction but finds this is undermined by poor urban governance resulting in ineffective building codes and poor land use planning at the local level.

"Disaster-induced internal displacement in the Philippines" takes an in-depth look at the aftermath of Tropical Storm Washi / Sendong which hit Mindanao in December 2011 and finds that the storm's impacts "show that legislation is insufficient unless it is supported by strong political will to ensure implementation."

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council states that the disaster which claimed over 1,500 lives and displaced 430,000 people, mainly in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, was caused by an intense storm but the impact could have been lessened "had the relevant authorities been held more accountable -- or had they focused more on risk reduction than disaster response."

In December 2012 when Typhoon Bopha struck Mindanao, the IDMC report notes that there was only one death in Cagayan de Oro and none in Iligan due to pre-emptive evacuation thus "demonstrating that large-scale casualties can be prevented and that disaster-related internal displacement can be managed when there is political will to implement the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (PDRRM-2010)."

PDRRM-2010 was pioneered by UNISDR Champion Senator Loren Legarda and put into practice the Philippines' commitment to reform its main disaster law in accordance with the Hyogo Framework for Action*, a ten year plan to reduce disaster risk endorsed by all UN member States.

A key HFA priority is to identify and remove underlying risks but the new study finds that the great majority of those displaced by Typhoon Sendong "had been living in extremely high-risk informal settlements prior to the disaster."

Only 6% of those who lost their homes have been able to apply for compensation and some temporary shelters and permanent relocation sites are in areas prone to landslides. Bureaucratic obstacles and issues around land use are preventing people from re-building their lives.

The World Bank calculated last year that the Philippines loses 0.8% of GDP annually to disasters highlighting the need for greater investment in disaster risk reduction. The PDRRM-2010 law states that 70% of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund ($170 million in 2012) should be for disaster risk reduction and only 30% for response. However, the IDMC report found that this so-called Calamity Fund was blocked in 2011 and Senator Legarda commented "we have the best law on natural disaster in the world but what is the use of these laws if the local governments cannot implement it."

Jerry Velasquez, head of the UNISDR Regional Office for Asia/Pacific, said: "Typhoon Sendong has been a major learning experience for the implementation of disaster risk reduction at local level. We have consulted closely with local government leaders across Mindanao over the last year and there is a clear willingness to improve performance but there needs to be more accountability in how funds for rehabilitation and recovery are spent. Local government also needs more power and resources to implement effective land use planning to avoid the creation of informal settlements in dangerous locations."

One outcome of a visit to Mindanao last year by UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlstrom has been Mindanao Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction Priorities and the IDMC report urges candidates in the May local elections to sign up to the Declaration.

Report author, Justin Ginettti, said: "As a result of the Philippines' constitution and political system, local government officials have autonomy on issues such as enforcing local building codes and land use plans, both of which can ensure that people live in safety, away from the most hazard-prone areas. Yet the combination of high poverty and a pervasive system of patronage politics, results in a situation where a large percentage of the population is forced to live in exactly these places."

*The Hyogo Framework for Acton (2005-2015): Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities has been endorsed by all UN member States. UNISDR has opened consultations on what should follow it in 2015 and these discussions will be a key item on the agenda at the biennial Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction which takes place in Geneva in May 2013.