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Learning Session in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management

Awareness of the importance of disaster risk reduction and management laws have flourished since the flash floods brought in by the typhoon Sendong last December. In this light, the Balay Mindanaw Group and representatives from its partner communities came together at the Rey Magno Teves Peace Hall last Monday for a Learning Session on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM.)

The Philippines is prone to a wide range of natural disasters: from floods to droughts and earthquakes to tsunamis, says Henry Floy Francisco of the Office of Civil Defense. “We even have garbage landslides or what the media has dubbed a ‘garbalanche.’” he added, flashing a photo of the 2010 Payatas landfill garbage landslide that killed hundreds of people who lived nearby.

Because of this, the Philippine government has created RA 10121, a law marking a change of focus from disaster relief to disaster risk reduction.  “We were famous for moving only when a flood or another incident has already happened.” explains Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Assistant Regional Director Nilo Castañares in a mix of English and Visayan. “Our mindset before was that disasters will really happen and we don’t have a choice. But now, our paradigm shift is that the effects of a disaster can be minimized when we manage the risks.”

However, the effects of the Sendong flash flood have made many question the implementation of disaster management policies. For instance, one participant cites that many residents still go back to flood prone areas within the Cagayan de Oro River’s “no build” zone even after losing friends and family to Sendong. “Nobody stops them.” he stressed, concerned that history may repeat itself once heavy rains come to greet us again.

Despite issues such as these, however, many tools are available to help us prevent future tragedies. Mr. Narvinso Tan of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) presented their monitoring devices for the weather and water levels. Most if this information is available online. “If I want to travel, I first check the PAG-ASA’s website.” Tan says, “And if I find that it might rain in the area, I will check the rain gauges on websites like PREDICT or Project NOAH.”

Tan says that they won’t stop at availability of information, however. “We want to develop a system where if we measure rain fall which is higher than usual, it sends automatic alert messages to persons responsible.” he continues.

In the event that a flood becomes inevitable, there are existing systems in place to ensure that vulnerable areas will have organized rescue and relief operations. Among them, says Ms. Hazel Occeña of the DILG, a plan to improve Local Government Unit capacity on DRRM and climate change adaptation, which they credit to the late Secretary Jesse Robredo.

Towards the end of the session, Castañares reflects that disaster preparedness involves three things: commitment by the local government to implement policies, participation and adherence of the people, and collaboration between all agencies involved. Later, he affirmed the willingness of the DILG to help Balay Mindanaw and its partner communities to implement disaster preparedness and management policies in their areas. (Hazel Aspera)

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