Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP110916- LiDAR Handover Ceremony- Keynote Message of Ambassador Rod Smith

LiDAR Handover Ceremony
Keynote Message of Ambassador Rod Smith
16 September 2011

Two years ago this month, we were all witness to the devastation caused to Metro Manila by Typhoon Ondoy. Since then, the Australian Government has been partnering with the Philippines Government on a project that has the potential to save lives and minimise the destructive impact of future such natural disasters, particularly in Metro Manila. Today, I am delighted to join with you in a ceremony that marks a significant milestone in this project - known as the Risk Analysis Project.

Let me start with a comment on the significance of the development cooperation partnership between the Philippines and Australia.

Many of you will be aware that Australia is one of the Philippines’ largest development partners, with an estimated PhP5.5 billion (A$123 million) in development assistance contributions this financial year.

Following a global review of our aid program, the Australian Government recently reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining or increasing aid to East Asian developing countries, including the Philippines, where it is found to be effective.

Australia’s commitment to continue working in partnership with the Government of Philippines to achieve positive development outcomes was reaffirmed at the third Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) in Canberra on 16 June 2011.

At the PAMM, our Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministers and Secretaries agreed that Australia’s aid will continue to focus on reducing poverty in the Philippines through support for basic education; improving local government capacity to deliver basic services; strengthened climate change adaptation and disaster risk management; and improving the prospects for peace and security. Ministers and Secretaries noted accountable, transparent and effective governance was essential to reducing poverty in the Philippines.

As our aid program here has increased, the Australian Government has deepened its focus on disaster risk reduction and climate change as core to our development agenda. We are all aware that the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world – in terms of natural disasters and longer term climate change risks. Disasters regularly drive people into poverty. When compounded with climate change risk, they threaten sustainable development in the country more broadly. Typhoon Ondoy demonstrated the power of natural disasters to keep people trapped in poverty and to pull those who have managed to escape back into misery.

There is little we can do to control the natural hazards confronting the Philippines. But there is a lot we can do to ensure that these natural hazards do not lead to catastrophic disasters that threaten the country’s development. Investments in risk reduction are critical.

Since 2006 in fact, Australia has applied this philosophy through our aid program in the Philippines. Australia’s partnership with NDRRMC under project READY has focused on assisting the highly vulnerable eastern seaboard provinces by generating multi-hazard maps to inform community-based plans for disaster emergencies.

We are now keen to bring the lessons of the READY project to the country’s highly urbanised areas. The Philippines is undergoing rapid urbanisation; one of the fastest in the region with 66 per cent of the total population now classified as urban dwellers. This is a critical DRR issue because urban cities are highly vulnerable to disasters. In the Philippines, this is leading to the urbanisation of disaster risk.

Metro Manila, for instance, is the most urbanised area in the country. The greater Metro Manila area hosts most of the country’s business, financial, and commercial activities and contributes about 60 per cent of national GDP. Eleven million Filipinos live in the city, with many of them living in highly exposed and crowded informal settlements, one intensive disaster, such as another Ondoy or a substantial earthquake, would have far-reaching and long-term economic and social consequences.

This brings me to the benefits of the Risk Analysis Project jointly implemented by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, AusAID, and Geoscience Australia.

Revealing risk is crucial to the way development can be redefined. Good disaster risk management starts with having credible, evidence-based information on the dangers and threats posed by hazards to the population and critical assets, such as schools and hospitals. The Risk Analysis Project will generate state-of-the art risk models that analyse the possible consequences of a typhoon, a flood, or an earthquake striking the city. The Project will bring the best and most accurate information to enable good investment and development planning across all of Metro Manila’s local governments.

But risk assessment is just one variable in the disaster risk management system. Our collective work should not end there.

We need to translate this risk data into action by implementing disaster prevention programs.

The bulk of responsibility in the DRR chain of action often falls on local governments.

The risk information generated under the Project will be a powerful decision-making tool for local chief executives, many of whom are here today. It will allow you to identify suitable areas to set up local economic hubs free from threats of natural hazards, or to determine which public infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, require retrofitting so that they become hazard-resilient. It will guide your efforts to strengthen community-based disaster emergency plans and early warning systems.

Recognising the crucial role of local governments to translate information into preventive action on the ground, AusAID is partnering with the City Government of Taguig to help build that city’s resilience to disasters and climate change impacts. Australia and Taguig will work to implement a model package of DRR support within a highly urbanised context. This program will have interlinked activities - community-based disaster risk management, land use planning, and building safer settlements – all designed to provide a model of a good DRR program that takes into account climate change risks. Our hope is that, if effective, this pilot program could be replicated to other Metro Manila cities.

Before I end, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the NDRRMC under the leadership of Usec Ramos and our colleagues from Geoscience Australia, headed by Dr Barnicoat. Congratulations for a job well done on completing the LiDAR survey data acquisition.

I hope that the good collaboration continues as we tackle the next challenge: transforming the LiDAR data handed over today into useable models that evaluate the potential impacts of natural disasters in terms of human casualties and damage to houses and critical infrastructure. And we look forward to working with the many leaders here today to ensure that good information is translated into real action on the ground that reduces risk for everyone, but particularly for poorer Filipinos.

On behalf of the Australian Government, thank you, our partners, for your collegiality, your support, and your commitment as we work together towards a safer Philippines.