Building resilience differently in the Philippines

For Filipinos, the final months of the year spur the preparations for end-of-year celebrations, but they also bring a premonition of devastating tropical cyclones that will ravage the region at this time of year. There used to be few. The past decade, however, has been relentless – littered with a list of typhoon names, each evoking memories of destruction, livelihoods shattered and lives lost.

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate-related disasters. Each year, this archipelagic country experiences an average of 21 tropical cyclones of varying strength. Last year, the country was hit by Typhoon Odette, a Category 5 super typhoon that reduced seven provinces to rubble. Odette was the 15th to hit the Philippines in 2021 and by far the strongest. It affected more than eight million Filipinos and left hundreds of thousands of people displaced without shelter, access to food, clean water and connectivity.

A year earlier, 26 provinces in the northern Philippines suffered the brunt of two major typhoons – Rolly and Ulysses. These two typhoons, which swept over Luzon back-to-back, turned the lives of two million Filipinos upside down.

And the super typhoon Yolanda, which devastated the entire Visayas region in 2013, is burned deep in the memory of the Filipinos. It was one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded. Yolanda’s anger affected more than 14 million people in 44 provinces and left more than 6,000 dead and 1,800 others missing.

The cost of disasters to this country is a massive drain on people’s safety and well-being, as well as on national, local and household budgets. It tears apart the social contract between leadership, state institutions and people. Local governments and communities bear the heaviest brunt and consistently hit the poor and vulnerable hardest.

According to the Department of Treasury (DOF), climate-related disasters have caused $10 billion in losses and damage over the past decade. Located in the typhoon belt and Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines regularly suffers damage and damages amounting to 0.5 percent of their annual GDP from extreme weather events and climate-related disasters. And that despite the fact that the country accounts for just 0.3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to the World Bank, climate change will plunge some 132 million people into extreme poverty over the next 10 years and wipe out a decade of hard-won development gains. This means more farmers will lose more of their crops; Fishing catches will decrease as fish stocks decline; more families are being swept into informal shelters as a result of direct damage to housing and infrastructure. And these often become their state of permanent impermanence.

The UNDP Human Development Report 2022 reveals how layers of uncertainty are stacking and interacting to shake life in unprecedented ways. The disproportionate impact of these protracted global crises with a still ongoing pandemic is increasing poverty and inequality and harming long-term prospects for economic growth.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty and uncertainty, these catastrophic typhoons underscore the need for robust disaster response and sustainable recovery in the Philippines for its future development. While typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, among other natural hazards, are inevitable, the high death toll and huge economic impact can be mitigated.

What would it take to rebuild to ensure greater resilience in the face of these repeated threats? The Philippines has made significant strides in the areas of disaster risk reduction and climate action, and is now seeking to build resilience in terms of response and outcomes. This means considering systemic risks and the need for deep transformative action that engages all stakeholders.

This means continued effort and investment in building the capacity of national and regional governments across sectors to work together on more connected solutions. This means communities are directly involved in how best to rebuild from the start, so people can be confident their ideas and feedback have been taken into account. That means spending much more on prevention, anticipating risks well in advance and planning for them before a disaster recovery.

Risk-based planning and development leverage real-time data and rapidly evolving digital, mobile, and satellite technologies that must be linked together to provide accurate information, early warning, and risk-based protocols and regulations. These include decisions about the location of settlements, industries, city centers; spatial development and security protocols for buildings, for cities and sustainability measures for infrastructures that limit damage. This is rebuilding for resilience, saving billions of dollars in losses and saving lives and livelihoods.

A final word on funding – it is a collective responsibility to ensure that the money follows this quality proposal to invest in a more sustainable recovery, in resilience. Public and private capital can be mixed and directed in these directions, reducing funding costs and providing more leverage by working towards a common goal.

These changes must be made soon as time is of the essence. Every moment of inaction or worse, harmful actions pushes the unbearable costs and losses to a point of no return.

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Kanni Wignaraja is Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and Regional Director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Selva Ramachandran is UNDP Representative for the Philippines.

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