A matter of national survival: Building a climate resilient Philippines

"The farther you are from the last disaster, the closer you are to the next one.”
-Commissioner Naderev Sano

The word resilient is often used in the lexicon of climate change. But nowhere will you find its use more fitting than when describing the resilient people of the Philippines.

In the devastating wake of typhoon Haiyan, it is clear that the impacts of climate change are not years away, but happening right now. At a side event at COP19 in Warsaw, pioneering members of the Filipino Climate Change Commission were there to explain what their government is doing about this long-term problem.

According to Lucille Sering, the Climate Change Act of 2009 was brought in after two major typhoons cost the archipelago state 2.4 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Now, they are in the process of implementing a policy framework with which to systematically address the growing threats to community life and the environment.

Sering says that since bringing in the law, spending on disaster and climate change preparedness has increased 26 per cent, but is still short of the 2 per cent of GDP recommended by the Stern Review. Also, resources are weighted more heavily on post-disaster reconstruction, rather than adaptation measures that would proactively save lives and reduce damages.

For Filipinos the growing frequency of intense storms makes taking action the only option. Typhoon Haiyan was the 25th typhoon to visit the country this year. Alarmingly, they are expecting two more before the end of the season.

Yet those on the panel were not resigned to the inevitability of climate change. Antonio La Viña told the story of the Camotos Islands that were affected similarly to Leyte, but managed to evacuate over 89,000 people and were spared massive casualties. This, La Viña said, was because of a community empowerment programme, whereby the community deposited capital in an emergency assistance fund and invested in sanitation and drainage infrastructure.

The panelists were all well aware that disasters are at the intersection of natural and human factors. Conditions of poverty, poor housing, lack of information about disaster risk all play their part in the severity of its toll.    

“We have to manage the unavoidable, and avoid the unmanageable,” said Naderev Sano, whose family is from Tacloban.

It’s this awareness, this willingness to confront the reality, this incredible resilience, that will best serve the Philippines as it rebuilds stronger than it was before.