Participants to the 2015 International Conference on Building Resilience and Developing Sustainability pose for posterity at the Baguio Convention Center. With them are University of the Philippines Baguio Chancellor Raymundo D. Rovillos, CSC Director Alejandro Ciencia Jr., World Food Programme Philippines Representative and Country Director Praveen Agrawal and United Nations WFP Philippines Programme Officer and Coordinator Onuora Daniels.
One purpose of disaster mapping is to delineate hazard-prone areas in a locality. These danger zones are borne by natural calamities such as landslides, flooding or tidal waves and storm surges along coastal areas.
As one of the key objectives in the determination of danger zones, disaster mapping would then be the basis for the authorities to call for a relocation of residents living within and along these disaster prone areas in order to avoid further loss of lives and properties arising from natural calamities.
UP President Alfredo E. Pascual says while the university’s Leyte campus suffered losses during typhoon Yolanda, the university also took an active role in the immediate aftermath of the disaster sending medical and forensic teams to assist survivors and identify casualties.
But this concept is not cast in stone, according to the participants in the stakeholders’ forum last January 16, held as part of the 2015 International Conference on Building Resiliency and Developing Sustainability (ICBRDS) at the University of the Philippines Baguio. The participants represented a broad spectrum of expertise, interests and persuasions – from scientists, engineers, anthropologists, psychologists, communicators, sociologists, to social workers including government and non- government workers and emergency volunteers.
They were clustered into several groups tackling issues pertaining to disaster risk reduction and management. In the matter of disaster mapping, some of the participants posed the question as to whether “relocation” as a strategy to mitigate casualties and property loss during natural disasters could be a universal response.
“What about the Badjaos?” They asked, referring to the Philippine sea gypsies of Sulu whose lives are historically and culturally connected to the sea. The group that tackled the issue of disaster mitigating measures argues that “imminent threat” alone is not enough for authorities to unilaterally decide to relocate people from their original places of settlement. Because “life is connected to the homeland,” there is also a psycho-social component to disaster mitigation and this needs to be addressed, the group that tackled disaster psychology added. They said this does not diminish the importance of “imminent threat” and the reason why the government declares “no-build zones.”
However, the call is likewise for government to realize that “relocation” is not the ultimate solution to every problem arising from a disaster event, they added. The participants revealed, for instance, that budgetary allocation for disaster preparedness is low in terms of local government priorities.
Data information among agencies tasked in disaster preparedness are also conflicting, “for instance, that of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) data,” they added.
And if there are pertinent data such as geo-hazard maps, the agencies do not download to the community the necessary skills to interpret these, they said. Add to this is that there are no standard modules for trainings on disaster preparedness.
These problems emerge as disaster management is also seen as a political issue, according to Dr. Dorothea Hilhorst of Wageningen University in The Netherlands, plenary speaker during the second day of the conference. The “politics of disaster,” as she calls it, is also caught up in squabbling among decision- makers as to risk classification and priority response.
This situation was again deliberated upon during the stakeholders’ forum in the instance of the Badjaos. They said that while the sea-dwelling people are certainly at immediate risk during a storm surge or a tsunami, relocating them would also impact strongly on their way of life.
The Badjaos’ preference and insistence to keep their homes inthe sea could be given due course because technology could also be harnessed for the people’s protection. The problem is that the government is hesitant to invest in technology because of the cost, said the participants.
Group facilitators present their workshop outputs during the stakeholder’s forum of the 2015 International Conference on Building Resilience and Developing Sustainability.
Collaboration between “experts and non-experts” was stressed during the two-day conference. The “non-experts” view being local or indigenous knowledge, the conference gave prominence to the importance of the non-experts knowledge in the disaster risk reduction.
The conference was initiated by the UP Baguio Cordillera Studies Center (CSC) in cooperation with the Japan Foundation, the World Food Programme and the city government of Baguio.
The CSC had been promoting research initiatives “leveraging on trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary systems including indigenous knowledge systems,” UPB Chancellor Raymundo D. Rovillos said in his remarks to conference participants last January 14. (ROLAND RABANG)
The author, Prof. Roland Rabang, is the UP Baguio Director for Public Affairs.