5 Steps to Disaster-Ready, Climate-Resilient Communities

Nov 26th, 2013 | By | Category: Disaster and Emergency, Disasters and Climate Change, News, Resilience, Vulnerability, Weather

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMANILA, Philippines – Local government units (LGUs) are on the front lines during disasters.

By law, LGUs have a mechanism that ensures the most basic form of preparedness. Under Republic Act 10121, or the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act, the government must create and implement a comprehensive plan to make local governments and the nation as a whole prepared for disasters.

On the national level, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was created to prepare for, and respond to, natural calamities, like typhoons and earthquakes.

On the local level, communities themselves must be more resilient to climate change impacts such as typhoons, storm surges (flooding caused by sea level rise), heatwaves, droughts and other extreme weather events. The plan should also enable communities to respond and recover easily when disaster strikes.

What does it take to be a climate-resilient and disaster-ready community?

1. Know about climate change and its impact

Climate change is more than just jargon. It’s a real phenomena endangering the human race, ecosystems and the entire planet.

Climate change is the result of global warming or the increase in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. This warming happens when the warmth of the sun cannot escape the atmosphere because of gases filling the air and blocking their path. Called greenhouse gases because of their “greenhouse” effect, they include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas, comes mainly from the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil to generate electricity or provide fuel for vehicles.

Global warming creates a domino effect that ultimately affects natural phenomena like climate, seasons and sea level. It leads to the extreme weather events now becoming more and more common: super typhoons, heatwaves, droughts and storm surge (flooding caused by abnormal sea level rise).

Knowing about these impacts can better prepare communities for them.

2. Assess vulnerabilities to reduce risks

All communities must know their weakest points. Tools like geohazard mapping and climate change scenario mapping can allow community leaders to see which areas are vulnerable to landslides, flooding and storm surge.

For example, people living close to the shore can be moved to higher ground. Urban planners and architects will know where to build evacuation centers, hospitals, schools and government buildings so they can withstand disasters.

Such assessments can tell environmentalists to concentrate reforestation programs in landslide prone areas or tell city planners to put high-capacity drainage systems where it is likely to flood the most. (READ: DENR to restore mangrove forests in Yolanda-hit areas)

They can also help officials decide if some settlements, especially those near the shore, should permanently relocate because of the huge risks posed by their location. In the case of Yolanda for example, coastal and island communities were the worst-hit by tsunami-like storm surges, some higher than 15 feet. (READ: Storm surges flood Tacloban)

3. Integrated approach to adaptation

From knowing the community’s weak points, the community can adapt to become stronger and more resilient even before disaster strikes. Some of the most vulnerable areas are ecosystems, agriculture,water management, energy, infrastructure and food security.

The more intact and balanced an ecosystem is, the more likely it can survive disasters. Ecosystems, whether aquatic or forest, are often the lifelines of communities which depend on them for food and livelihood. To make these communities less vulnerable to climate change and disasters, ecosystems should be protected from deforestation, illegal poaching and destruction of coral reefs or mangrove forests. (READ: Mangroves are PH’s best shield vs climate change)

Agriculture must be made climate-responsive. LGUs should help farmers make use of new technology that can protect their crops from climate change. This can include new harvesting and planting techniques, climate-resilient crop varieties.

Water management entails being able to control the amount of water in a community. LGUs located near water basins or water sheds must be able to lessen or stop the overflow of water into the community to prevent flooding. Efficient and well-thought-of drainage systems must also be in place.

The community’s energy should not be completely reliant on fossil fuel and the national power grid. The LGU should invest in renewable energy like solar, wind and geothermal power which can provide electricity even when main power lines are cut off by storms. Eventually, the community should be able to make a complete shift to renewable energy because this so-called “clean” energy emits less carbon thus helping curb global warming. (READ: Green groups to DOE: What happened to renewable energy?)

Infrastructure of houses, public buildings, government offices, bridges and roads should be built to outlast storms and storm surges. While the specific type of architecture depends on the location and situation of the community, in general, this means using robust building materials, allowing structures to be sealed from wind and elevating them. (READ: Time to make the Ph stadium typhoon-proof)

Food security can be achieved by stocking up on essential food like rice to be stored in time for a disaster. But this also means strengthening agricultural systems against climate change and ensuring food from the farms and fields also reach more urbanized areas in the community.

These adaptive measures are best achieved not just by each LGU looking out only for themselves, but by adjacent LGUs helping one another. This is especially true for LGUs which share jurisdiction over mountains, forests, marine sanctuaries, water sheds and the like. LGUs can form alliances so they work together in making these areas more climate-resilient.

4. Provide funding and equipment

The national and local government must find ways to finance climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction programs. This can come in the form of disaster preparedness management grants or technical assistance for the project.

Climate justice advocates all over the world also say the funding can come from the Green Climate Fund, a fund established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change specifically to help developing countries create climate change adaptation and disaster-preparedness programs.

5. Train the people

Human resources are one of the most valuable assets to have when dealing with disaster and climate change. Locals must be trained to face extreme weather events through workshops, seminars and the popularization of good practices (like evacuating to higher ground when a storm approaches). LGU leaders must guided on how to develop policies for disaster-preparedness and climate change adapation.

Best practices and good ideas should be documented and shared among the community and to other communities who can benefit from the knowledge. (READ: Are we ready for another Ondoy?)

All Filipinos have the right to know if their local government is pursuing programs for disaster-preparedness and resiliency to climate change. After seeing the effects of Yolanda, never has it been more necessary to make sure such programs are in place. Communities should not wait for the next deadly typhoon before being adequately prepared.

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