The extent of disaster in Davao highlights a lesson still unlearned. Bayanihan and aid can only do so much. We could always empty our wardrobes and pantries and pack them off to the affected. These would feed and clothe them for some months or perhaps a year. And then what? Disaster risk reduction is more than preparedness (this is just a component of DRR). It is definitely not emergency response (as this is a component of disaster management not DRR).
The outcome of DRR is a risk-free and resilient community. Risk-free (or at least minimal exposure) because the community manages the disaster risks. And disaster risk is a function of hazard and vulnerability, meaning a community may be hit by super typhoons but if it is resilient and has been managing the risks well (the opposite of vulnerable) there won’t be a disaster.
Vulnerability has so much to do with poverty (i.e. economic, social, intellectual/knowledge). An economically-poor community who does not manages its disaster risks because residents do not know the risks they’re in and don’t know what to do about these is a vulnerable community. How can you solve the thing you do not know? How can you act when you do not know how? In this regard, the disaster in the affected communities in Davao is not to be blamed on the typhoon (how can intelligent people blame a thing?) but on their incapacity for risk reduction and management. To take the argument further, their incapacity is closely linked to local governments’ responsibilities in this case as outlined in the DRR Law, RA 10121. Putting up the needed infrastructures and services as well as improving the communities’ capacities to risk manage are not local governments’ prerogatives but rather their duties under the law. These are the communities’ right, by virtue of the law. They could in fact sue their governments for continually neglecting those duties. But how could they when the communities’ knowledge of these things is, I’m expertly guessing, nil.
I was exchanging mobile messages with a friend in development work about the Davao disaster, particularly the rush of aid from I/NGOs to the communities. The aid is well meaning and I have to emphasize that but then I go back to the question – and then what? I think I’ve become fatigued with seeing masses of Filipinos, young and old, packed worse than sardines in a can, in shelters that are not physically managed and worse they – almost everyone – think it’s a normal event and the typhoon is to blame. It’s not. It has been my recommendation, repeatedly so, in evaluations of DRR projects and programs that I/NGOs are responsible, apart from the aid to communities, to initiate with governments talking points for actual take up of DRR and maybe from there a collaboration in technical assistance even if the affected areas are not their program areas. They can’t just dump their stuff and go. Otherwise they are in danger of becoming part of the problem. The NGO community by virtue of their founding principles are there to provide alternatives to the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of government and the blindness of the market. Of late, the community, in my view, has become too commercialized to the extent that its role as a vanguard and gatekeeper is very much compromised. It has either become part of the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of government or the blindness of the market.
Beyond institutions, the basic ingredients of a resilient nation which this nation should work on are: education of the masses, skilling of the masses, and jobs for the masses.
With this as my closing article this year, I wish the followers and readers of my blog a happy Christmas! Being alive is something to be happy about after all.