Legarda Stresses Cost-Effectiveness of Disaster Mitigation vs. Reaction

As the country enters a new year still reeling from the effects of Typhoon Sendong in Mindanao, Senator Loren Legarda today expressed concern over the conditional implementation of the Calamity Fund in 2011 and 2012 budgets, stressing that it violates the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (DRRM) of 2010 and shows lack of understanding of disaster resilience.

Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, said that if the government wants to reduce its spending on relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, it should focus on allocating more funds on disaster mitigation and preparedness to lessen, if not eliminate, casualties and damages when natural hazards strike.

“It is not enough that we enhance our capacities to re-build after each and every disaster. For without effective disaster mitigation, thousands of lives and homes, billions worth of properties and livelihoods, even government’s growth and revenue targets, can be at the mercy of extreme weather events. Three years ago, the damage wrought by twin typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng already required PhP 227 billion for reconstruction.”

“With each disaster, our people are pushed deeper into poverty as they lose almost everything that make up their lives’ possessions. With each disaster, homes and critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and bridges are destroyed. With each storm or drought, our poor farmers lose all the fruits of their hard work, the basis of their very subsistence. With each disaster, money from the government coffers, if at all available, is diverted to relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation. If the government coffers turn out empty, we resort to foreign loans that must be repaid with interest.”

Legarda, the United Nations Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia-Pacific, pointed out that Congress had passed the needed laws for disaster risk reduction and climate change actions in the last three years – the Climate Change Act of 2009 and DRRM Act of 2010.

Under the DRRM Act, the calamity fund appropriated under the annual General Appropriations Act, which was then used entirely for post-disaster activities, should be known as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Fund. This fund shall be used for disaster risk reduction or mitigation, prevention and preparedness activities such as, but not limited to, training of personnel, procurement of equipment, and capital expenditures. Of the amount appropriated for the NDRRM Fund, thirty percent shall be allocated as Quick Response Fund or standby fund for relief and recovery programs.

“This is the very essence and spirit of the DRRM law — to shift from a reactionary, post-disaster strategy into a more proactive stance. However, it is lamentable that the PhP7.5-billion NDRRM Fund next year will be used solely for response – which clearly runs counter to the objectives of our landmark legislation,” Legarda said.

Legarda noted that this year’s General Appropriations Act cautioned against using the Calamity Fund for pre-disaster activities, and DBM’s assertion that funds for disaster preparation had been effectively integrated in various agency budgets.

“I want to be convinced that there is indeed an effective integration of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in our agency budgets,” Legarda said.

She pointed out that investments by the Philippine government on DRR such as flood control, forest management, hazard identification, mapping and assessment, research and development, preparedness and risk financing must be increased, made more effective and must show results.

“Our government should realize that DRR pays. We have country experiences to prove this. China spent US$3.15 billion on flood control between 1960 and 2000, which is estimated to have averted losses of about US$12 billion. A mangrove-planting project in Vietnam aimed at protecting coastal populations from typhoons and storms yielded an estimated benefit/cost ratio of 52 over the period 1994 to 2001. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh killed 3,400, in contrast to a similar cyclone in 1991 that killed 138,000 people, and in 1970, as many as 300,000 people. The huge decrease in casualties is attributed in most part to 42,000 volunteers (called megaphones on bicycles) who helped evacuate millions of residents before the cyclones struck land.”

“I urge the government to seriously revisit its spending policy vis-à-vis the DRRM law because while disasters are becoming worse and deadlier, our actions are still inconsistent with our goals of a disaster-resilient nation. In the meantime, more people lose their lives, and our economic development is derailed. To wait for more deaths and destruction before we aggressively pursue disaster mitigation measures is simply unforgivable. I urge the President to make DRR a top priority and help LGUs by allowing them to prepare,” Legarda concluded.***