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‘More funds should go to disaster preparedness’

Local and international experts urged the national government to prioritize disaster-prevention investments to it can better respond and lower the number of casualties caused by various natural disasters.

In a statement released by state-owned think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), Asian Development Bank (ADB) Independent Evaluation Director-General Vinod Thomas said it was only in recent years when the Philippines increased its disaster prevention efforts.

Thomas said the recent shift in the country’s focus on disaster prevention yielded good results. He said disaster prevention efforts helped lower the number of casualties in typhoon Pablo in Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao in 2012 compared to the 674 deaths during typhoon Sendong in 2011.

“Prevention is critically important and, therefore, preparedness and investments in disaster-risk reduction must be prioritized,” Thomas said. “(In the Philippines) disaster preparedness is underemphasized compared to disaster response.”

In a study Building Resilience to Natural Disasters and Major Economic Crises recently released by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), experts discussed strategies on how organizations and policymakers can address the twin threats of natural disasters and economic crises in an increasingly interconnected world.

The study is particularly relevant to the Philippines, a country noted for its commitment to community-based disaster risk reduction. Policymakers have taken to heart the mantra that prevention and preparedness is far more effective, and less costly, than relief and recovery efforts.

Between 2009 to 2011, an average of 70 percent of the annual disaster-risk reduction (DRR) budget in the Philippines was set aside for projects and programs that reduced the exposure of population and assets, compared to only 27 percent that was allocated to disaster response and recovery.

Shamika Sirimanne, Director of the ICT and Disaster Risk Reduction Division of Escap and team leader of the study, presented the main findings. She said disaster-risk reduction is extremely important for inclusive and sustainable development, and is a key component of strengthening regional resilience.

She explained that with more external shocks in the Asia and the Pacific region, there is more demand for comprehensive and systemic approaches in building resilience. These efforts are critical because even localized incidents can have regional and global consequences.

Sirimanne added that governments must focus on policy solutions that promote short-term economic stability with long-term development impacts.

“First and foremost, governments must invest in prevention and preparedness….and do more to protect the poor and vulnerable groups. Local communities need to be empowered because they are at the forefront of recovery efforts,” Sirimanne said.

The study said this is why programs such as BRACE -- Building Resilience and Awareness of Metro Manila Communities to Natural Disasters and Climate Change Impacts -- are important.

BRACE aims to strengthen community-based disaster-risk management and support for vulnerable families living in hazard-prone areas.

“Resilience or the capacity to withstand, adapt to, and recover from crises is particularly important for the poor and the marginalized. When these shocks occur, they are hurt disproportionately, making them fall into poverty or slide back to poverty, overturning past efforts to make their lives better. Lack of resilience contributes to the worsening of poverty levels. It makes economic growth all the more less inclusive and makes the disparity between the rich and the poor wider,” PIDS President Gilbert Llanto said.

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