Preparation and Response: Preparedness and Resilience in DRRM

We are an archipelago, this is significant to us as a nation, to our politics and governance, and especially recently, to natural disasters. Climate change is here and so far it shows how vulnerable we are. In 2010, in response to and in anticipation of disasters, especially those that clearly depart from what are supposed to be norms and patterns until recently, the government passed the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act of 2010. The emphasis now is on “risk reduction” and “management,” and this explains the need for PR, “Preparedness” and “Resilience”; and this is measured by Preparation and Response. This time, the government, both national and local level, can make use of funds and other resources for preparation, therefore even before disaster strikes. This allows planning, acquisition of equipment, training and other necessary activities that will ensure the government’s readiness in the event of a disaster.

Now which level of government and or agency is supposed to be “in-charge”? In-charge would mean one that will be on top of the situation especially when the disaster is already there and preparation is therefore already being tested by response. This is fundamental because, while the requirements, the needs of victims can pour in from different sources and donors, the equally important consideration is how to get these requirements to the victims. And this is where the “logjam” will be, especially in extreme cases of disaster like what we just had recently, the unprecedented super storm that is Yolanda or Haiyan. Note the prefatory statement, we are an archipelago; there are natural barriers and therefore difficulties in getting relief to victims. The key point here is “access” which is dependent on infrastructure. Infrastructure that would almost certainly be inoperable by then and thus has to be among the priorities. With all these considerations, we can very well see the “requirements” which, while food, water, medicine, clothing, the basic necessities are primordial, it will have to include making sure all these gets to the victims. Of course, the post-disaster necessities of healthcare, treatment of physical injuries and trauma should all be part of the equation, and therefore, rebuilding people’s lives, housing and infrastructure, law and order etc. The list could be endless, and we can therefore say, the entire institution that is the state, should be wholly working, “coordinatedly” responding in the event of a disaster. “Coordination” is thus the fundamental role of the one in-charge, whether it is an institution or a particular person or public official.

Whoever is in charge, it is a given that the government is in charge. This means, the institution that is the government is in charge. This only means there is organizationthat includes process, levels of and division of work and responsibilities. We believe that the local government units (LGUs) play a key role in DRRM simply because they are the first line of defense, the first level of government directly in touch with the people even during normal circumstances. The key role they play on the other hand is not coordination, which logically falls under the responsibility of the national government, most especially that in most cases, there are a number of LGUs affected. LGUs are more of implementers; of course they are to plan and prepare, but these are all limited to their area of concern and thus coordination would be miniscule compared to the broader vista of the national government. The principle of subsidiarity should make it easier to understand; the national government only does what local authorities or LGUs cannot do. In the case of DRRM therefore, the national government’s role is two-fold, one is coordinative, including decision-making and national planning, and two as a fail-safe to LGUs; to fill-in what the latter fails to or cannot provide, again especially in extreme cases that the LGU itself is affected by the disaster. Affected could mean its personnel, including its officials are also, substantially victims, and its resources, including the LGU structure and equipment etc. were damaged or destroyed rendering it ineffective. As a fail-safe, the national government readily takes over until normalcy is put back in place. If we go by this vantage point, the success and or failure of DRRM would all be credited to the government at all levels, whoever is in charge. Considering however that coordination is the most basic of all the elements we have discussed, the greater responsibility is obviously with the national government. The question “who is to blame?” therefore would be the last the national leaders would like to answer.

The government as an institution is in charge. While the question “who is to be credited or to be blamed?” would hardly be one that should be readily answered especially at the national level, note that again, based on the principle of subsidiarity, the national government is a “fail-safe” for LGUs. LGUs therefore have the fundamental responsibility of being “prepared” and being able to “respond” soonest it is required. While coordination is important, planning is equally essential, especially at the local level. If we go by just one requirement, say relocation or temporary shelter as an example, there are basic information that have to be available first, and this is a key responsibility of LGUs. This is called, baseline data that includes a complete map of the local area, showing elevation, hazard areas, etc., demographics and socioeconomic profile among others. As has been the case seen in previous disasters, the relocation site was proven to be as unsafe as other areas; the consideration being simply that it is a public stadium or plaza or school and therefore can accommodate several people, and not because it is in a more elevated place or that its location is not prone to flooding, erosion, earthquake or which ever disaster or combination. Now, the question is how many of our LGUs actually have a working baseline data system, at the least, a map that provides all the needed information? We even have yet to have a national land use plan, not even a comprehensive national map that allows a “spatial” approach to policy-making. The point is, under existing laws, LGUs can do a lot other than just waiting and expecting the national government to come to their aid. This in fact should be the norm. It takes time before the national or central government could respond, based on the simple consideration of proximity. This is the same experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US. In the first place, everyone, especially the LGU officials should know that it is in their best interest to have the LGU able to respond adequately; politics will always be a given, and considering that in disasters, many will likely be affected, all are entitled to assistance at the national level, but the timeliness of the assistance will be dependent on political priorities. You would not want to be dependent on political considerations therefore. In this sense, we can say that at lease in being first responders, credit or blame could be with the LGU. Then again, question is what was the level of disaster that struck?

There are also questions recently as to who is or which agency is in charge at the national level. This is, objectively speaking a systemic question. Of course, a good, effective leader can make a big difference, but a system could make a good and effective leader. We can have a discussion on that point in another piece. By way of conclusion, DRRM is without doubt part of good governance as a weak or absent DRRM is a sign of bad governance. It should not be considered as separate from the day-to-day work of government as we have discussed, preparation is key to response, that which is dependent on consistent good governance. In the end, all levels of government are to be credited or blamed, as ultimately, the people, the constituents are the ones to enjoy or suffer the kind of governance afforded them.