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Poor communities in the Philippines build resilience against disasters

According to the latest ‘Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction’ published by the United Nations this week, the risk of being killed by a cyclone or flood is lower today than 20 years ago because of early warning systems and better disaster response in countries frequently affected.

Nevertheless, the report estimates an average 70 million people are exposed to flooding each year and a similar number of children are affected by natural disasters.

The Philippines is ranked by the report as the fourth most disaster-prone country based on land area. Lying on the western rim of the Pacific and along a seismic belt, two-thirds of its land is exposed to natural hazards such as storms, typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and droughts. As a result, three-quarters of the population are at risk. Typhoons are the most frequent hazard and the poor are particularly vulnerable, with their homes often unable to withstand high winds, as many families cannot afford cement or solid building materials. In addition, nearly a third of Filipinos gain their livelihood from agriculture. Natural disasters cause an estimated 275 million dollars-worth of damage each year.

Local councils have the responsibility for co-ordinating disaster response at a local level and a new law allows them to allocate some of their disaster relief income on prevention and other measures which bolster communities. In the Cebu province, where tropical storms regularly leave a trail of destruction, the farming and fishing communities of the San Francisco municipality have been using funds to help reduce the impact of natural disasters on local industries.

With assistance from Plan International, locals have been engaged in a number of projects to help sustain communities so that they can better overcome set-backs caused by the weather. For example, more mangroves have been planted to provide shelter for young fish and a marine sanctuary has been built to rebuild fish stocks. To redress the damage from illegal logging, a local law has been passed which requires the planting of two million trees.  And farmers are being given advice on climate-resilient crops.

Working with the Department of Education, inhabitants are also being taught about disaster risk reduction, which is included on the school curriculum. Local warning systems have also been put in place to monitor rainfall levels and tell people when it’s time to evacuate. Work is ongoing to build up the community’s resilience and the projects are not only aimed at tackling climate change, but also poverty. As the mayor of San Francisco says, “if we don’t do anything about both [climate change and poverty], we will only suffer more.”

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