Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP120316 - Opening Ceremony of the Regional Forum on Effective Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in Greater Metro Manila Area - Opening Remarks by Ambassador Bill Tweddell

Opening Ceremony of the Regional Forum on Effective Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in Greater Metro Manila Area

Remarks by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
16 March 2012

-Senator Loren Legarda
-Mayor Herbert Bautista
-Ms Baby Supetran from UNDP
-Our distinguished local government representatives
-Friends and Partners

On behalf of the Australian Government, thank you for the opportunity to co-sponsor this Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Summit for the Greater Metro Manila Area.

Just a month ago, we co-sponsored a Mindanao Summit on Disaster Risk Reduction and Geo-Hazard Awareness in Cagayan de Oro City. Our Deputy Head of Mission, Mr Byrne, delivered a message of support to the survivors of typhoon Sendong. Australia was one of the first donors to respond by releasing 56 million Pesos or A$1.3 million for urgent items such as temporary shelter and psycho-social support. This was followed by a larger package of support worth A$6.5 million (280 million Pesos) making Australia a prominent contributor to the Sendong emergency appeal with A$7.8 million (or 351 million Pesos).

Today, amongst distinguished guests and partners, I am equally privileged to deliver a similar message of commitment on the same pressing development issue – how our aid program can work with you to make Filipinos safer and more resilient to the threats of natural disasters and climate change impacts.

On 6 July last year, our Foreign Minister released an Independent Review of the Australian Aid Program together with a new Australian Aid policy: An Effective Aid Program for Australia. This new policy includes a key strategic focus that is: “to reduce the negative impacts of climate change and other environmental factors on poor people and enhance disaster preparedness”.

This framework underpins Australia’s aid program in the Philippines. The development partnership between our two countries in the last decade is valued at A$780 million, doubling in size over the last five years. For year 2011-2012, the aid program budget is 5.5 billion Pesos or A$123.1 million, making Australia the top bilateral grant donor, according to the Government of the Philippines.

Our development assistance will continue to focus on reducing poverty by several means:

  • by supporting basic education;
  • by improving local government capacity to deliver basic services;
  • by improving the prospects for peace and security;
  • by strengthening accountable, transparent and effective governance;
  • and, more relevant to today’s forum, by strengthening climate change and disaster risk management.

We recognise that many of our development partners in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, are highly vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

Through our aid program, we support people to overcome poverty and help poor communities prepare for natural disasters and minimise their impacts.

Two and half years after typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, Metro Manila and its neighbouring provinces remain exposed to natural disasters. The Philippines is one of the fastest urbanising countries in the region with 66 per cent of the total population now classified as urban dwellers. This is leading to the urbanisation of disaster risk.

We have learned from Ondoy and Pepeng, lessons cruelly reinforced by Sendong, 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. These include:

  • poor urban and land use planning;
  • weak enforcement of building codes;
  • drainage clogged with solid waste;
  • encroachment of natural waterways by construction;
  • insufficient spill-ways and flood-ways; and
  • informal settlers forced to live in hazard-prone areas because of low access to safer and affordable housing

We understand that these constraints can be complex. The good news is that preparedness is cost-effective. Investments made now will reduce the damage bill of future disasters, and the impacts of climate change on the lives of each Filipino.

Sound investments in promoting urban resilience through disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation are critical for the Philippines.

The other good news for everyone here today is that Australia’s current flagship disaster risk reduction program will be focused in Metro Manila. It involves an integrated package of support to build urban resilience, to be piloted in Taguig City, but with potential wider application to other cities. This program will do several things.

One, it will generate technology-advanced and credible hazard and risk information for earthquake, tropical cyclone severe wind and flooding through a modern light detection and ranging (LiDAR) survey – I understand that the Philippines is one of the first countries in the region to use this technology;

Two, it will develop disaster and climate risk-sensitive land use strategies and plans for provinces and cities;

Three, it will strengthen community capacities for disaster preparedness and mitigation;

And lastly, it will provide poor communities living in dangerous areas which are unfit for human habitation with safer and affordable housing, including access to employment opportunities and basic amenities, such as roads, water, and electricity.

We call this program BRACE because it wants to do just that – brace communities for the impact of natural disasters. It is a pilot program, which we hope will encourage other local government units around the country, particularly those in Metro Manila, to summon a strong political commitment and willingness to go beyond business-as-usual, to invest in the right kind of practical measures that will protect communities from tragedies.

For BRACE, our intention is to work with local governments who shoulder the bulk of responsibility in the chain of action for reducing risks and building resilience. Local governments play the key role in strengthening the resilience of urban Metro Manila.

Perhaps it is unknown to many that Australia is also a major financier of relevant policy work that will benefit the metropolis:

Australia is the only country funding work in the Philippines under the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction, including:
technical work being done by the World Bank in developing a Metro Manila Flood Control Masterplan with the Department of Public Works and Highways; and
preparing the visionary Green Print 2030 with the Metro Manila Development Authority

Australia is a major contributor to Cities Alliance, a coalition of donors, developing country cities, local government associations, civil society representing urban communities committed to advocating and promoting pro-poor development of cities. Cities Alliance is helping the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council develop a National Slum Upgrading Strategy.

We are also working with RedR Australia for a program on enhancing the capacities of Metro Manila and other urban areas in the country for urban search and rescue.

In closing, I’m proud to say that Australia stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our Philippines partners who are poised to make a difference in building the resilience of urban communities – where the impacts of natural disasters and the changing climate are most keenly felt – to create a safer future for all Filipinos.

Thank you and I wish you a successful forum.