Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP101119- Launch of Disaster Risk Management Initiatives in the Philippines

Launch of Disaster Risk Management Initiatives in the Philippines
Remarks by Ambasssador Rod Smith
19 November 2010

- General Benito Ramos of the Office of Civil Defense – National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council
- Director Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology
- Director Leo Jasareno of Mines and Geoscience Bureau
- Administrator Peter Tiangco of the National Mapping Resource Information Authority
- Acting Administrator Graciano Yumul of the Philippines Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration
- Dr John Schneider of Geoscience Australia
- Ms Imee Manal of the UNDP
- Friends and Partners

I am pleased to be with you today to launch two important activities that will contribute to saving lives and ensuring the safety of Filipino communities, particularly in Metro Manila.

Around the world, the last twelve months or so have highlighted graphically the destructive force of natural disasters.

Starting in July this year, Pakistan has been hit by the worst floods in 80 years. The flood damage has left more than six million people dependent on emergency food supplies. Up to ten million people are without homes. Around 21 million people were affected by the flooding – surpassing the combined impacts of the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.

And last year’s typhoon season in the Philippines, scarred by Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi, underscored the vulnerability of the Philippines to natural disasters. The loss of life and damage caused by these typhoons shocked Australians.

This last year demonstrates the impact of natural disasters in keeping people trapped in poverty and throwing back those who have managed to escape poverty back into misery.

Unfortunately, the frequency and severity of weather-related events are projected to increase significantly as climate change takes hold.

That is why the Australian government places a very high priority on natural disasters and climate change in its international aid program, recognising these as fundamental development challenges.

Australia will always be a generous friend in providing humanitarian and emergency relief in the aftermath of a disaster – as we were to the Philippines last year, and to Samoa, Haiti and Pakistan recently. But we are also increasingly allocating more development assistance to reduce disaster risk and enhance resilience of countries and communities to disasters.

In Indonesia, for instance, we have just launched the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction that brings together scientists and disaster managers to identify risks and reduce the impact of disasters on a regional scale. Through major initiatives in climate change we are seeking to assist countries preserve their natural environment as a strategy to mitigate the global impacts of climate change.

A good understanding of risk underpins the Australian aid program’s focus on disaster risk management here in the Philippines.

As you all know too well, the Philippines has very high vulnerability to natural disasters relative to other countries. In economic terms, with almost 80% of GDP at risk, it is one of the world’s most at-risk countries. Excluding small [Latin American and Caribbean] states, it is the second most at-risk country behind Japan . The situation is more stark when risk is reflected in human terms. The mortality risk for major cyclones is heavily concentrated here in Metro Manila. If the same typhoon hit the Philippines and Japan, mortality would be 17 times higher in the Philippines .

Ondoy and Pepeng confirmed this risk diagnosis. Approximately 1000 lives were lost, with 9.3 million Filipinos directly affected. Ondoy hit the centre of economic activity in the country – greater Metro Manila, which accounts for 60% of GDP. And Pepeng ravaged the agricultural heartland in northern Luzon, destroying harvest-ready crops to the tune of US$850 million. The total damage bill amounted to around 2.7% of GDP – a significant setback to the development prospects of the country.

It is only by reducing disaster risk, strengthening preparedness and building stronger community resilience that the scale of devastation and damages wrought by future disasters can be reduced.

The Philippines now has a strong legal and institutional platform to effectively manage the twin issues of disaster risk management and climate change. The passage of the Disaster Risk Management Act and the Climate Change Act, which establishes the Climate Change Commission, is a commendable achievement. These laws herald a paradigm shift away from an emphasis on disaster response to actively reducing disaster risks, within the context of adapting to the challenges of climate change.

This paradigm shift is essential and timely. It recognises that action is required to address the underlying, man-made issues, especially in urban areas, that typically exacerbate the scale of destruction caused by disasters: poor urban planning, drainage clogged with solid waste, encroachment of natural waterways by construction, insufficient spillways and flood-ways, and informal settlers on riverbanks and other hazard-prone areas. These factors certainly contributed to the scale of devastation wrought by Ondoy and Pepeng. The shift towards risk reduction also recognises that prevention is cost-effective. Investments made now will reduce the damage bill of future disasters as well as the human cost, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

While much work remains in the Philippines to meet these challenges, I am pleased to see the gains in Philippines institutional capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters.

I am also proud that Australia has contributed to some of these gains. Since 2006, the Australian Government has contributed A$8.7 million (about 340 million pesos) through its aid program to disaster risk reduction programs. These have been implemented in partnership with Philippine government agencies and non-government organisations:

- We are working with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the UNDP to integrate core principles of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation into local development planning
- We are tapping local knowledge and building disaster preparedness capacities of communities with the Philippine Red Cross through Project 143
- We are collaborating with Oxfam to document good practices found at the local level and in integrating disaster risk reduction principles in water, sanitation and health
- We are supporting the Department of Health and the World Health Organization on the roll-out of a surveillance and early warning system for disease outbreak after a disaster

And saving the best for last – our work with CSCAND agencies on the Hazards Mapping and Assessment for Effective Community Based Disaster Risk Management (READY Project) with UNDP has been very well-received. The READY project proved that it is possible to have coordinated action in disaster risk management in the country. The hazard information produced by CSCAND is critical and serves as the foundation of all disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation management data in the Philippines. I am pleased to report that other countries like Indonesia are looking at the READY model to see whether they can replicate it in their local context.

These activities show that Philippines-Australian collaboration on disaster risk management and climate change is gaining momentum. Some Australian agencies have existing relationships with the Philippines through the aid program. These include the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Oxfam Australia, Australian Red Cross, Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology, and Australian state government disaster management agencies. Last year, we signed a subsidiary arrangement with our CSCAND partners to formalise our relationship. We are now taking this partnership a step further as we sign today an agreement to guide the implementation of our Risk Analysis project.

We see great potential in our CSCAND colleagues standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their counterpart agencies in Australia, such as Geoscience Australia. I would like to acknowledge the presence of Dr John Schneider, head of Geoscience Australia’s Risk Analysis Group, who has come from Canberra to join us today. Geoscience Australia will play a valuable role in the risk analysis project and we look forward to a growing Geoscience Australia and CSCAND partnership into the future.

We are also pleased to announce our $2.5 million support to the CSCAND agencies with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme for a Metro Manila-wide disaster risk management project entitled “Enhancing Greater Metro Manila’s Institutional Capacities for Effective Disaster/Climate Risk Management”. UNDP and CSCAND will implement this project to complement the Risk Analysis Project.

Both projects respond to the urgent need to generate credible, comprehensive, and accurate disaster risk information to inform planning and development in Metro Manila, where the human and economic costs of disasters are potentially the greatest. Used prudently, and matched with government resources, this information will allow the government to identify suitable areas to set up local economic hubs free from threats of natural hazards and to determine which public infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, require retrofitting to become hazard-resilient.

On behalf of the Australian Government, allow me to thank you, our partners, for your collegiality, your support, and your commitment to work together to achieve a safer Philippines that is more resilient to natural disasters and the impacts of climate change.

Congratulations to everyone. Maraming salamat and mabuhay.