A 'rapid' response to disasters, climate change

A Philippine soldier stands guard as evacuees board an Australian aircraft at the Tacloban airport. A new program called the Resilience and Preparedness for Inclusive Development, which was developed in partnership with the the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United Nations Development Program, is the latest step in global disaster risk reduction efforts since the Tacloban Declaration. Photo by: Australian Department of Defense / CC BY

The Philippines is hit each year by several natural disasters — yet almost every time a typhoon or an earthquake strikes, the country seems ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath.

While it’s practically impossible to fully prepare for such a massive disaster as Typhoon Haiyan in late 2013, a newly expanded government program now aims to draw on lessons learned to lessen the risks and mitigate the impact of climate-related incidents in the country, one of the world’s most vulnerable to natural calamities and the effects of climate change.

“It’s more costly for the government to react [to disasters] than preparing for them. It is much better to invest and build back better, faster and safer,” Lesley Cordero, a top official with the Philippine government’s Haiyan rehabilitation office, said at the launch of the Resilience and Preparedness for Inclusive Development program by the Philippine Climate Change Commission.

RAPID is the latest step in global disaster risk reduction efforts since the so-called Tacloban Declaration published after the Asia-Europe meeting in Manila in June, which contains new provisions on DRR and is widely expected to compose the bulk of the post-2015 Sendai DRR framework to be finalized next year.

Disasters have disrupted social and economic development worldwide, making DRR a priority area of focus for the aid community. According to the World Bank, disasters have cost the world almost $4 trillion since 1980 — an amount that could have been earmarked for wider development programs.

That’s why a proactive program like RAPID can save time, money and lives in the long-run, according to Ewen McDonald, deputy secretary at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which now oversees the country’s aid program.

“A single disaster can undermine many years of hard work. It sets back any incremental progression that we've made in development objectives and goals,” McDonald said at the event, citing that every dollar spent on DRR is equivalent to up to $10 spent on disaster response efforts.


The program, developed in partnership with the U.N. Development Program and DFAT, is an expanded version of the Project Climate Twin Phoenix launched in 2012 after parts of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao were devastated by typhoons Washi and Bopha. Twin Phoenix was able to post positive results in Iligan in Mindanao.

“RAPID will build on the lessons from Twin Phoenix. We’re not starting from scratch here,” Philippine Climate Change Commission Vice Chair Lucille Sering said during the press conference. “We will start with knowledge and partnerships. It will lessen the debate [on climate change] if the science is there.”

The program will focus on communities in the Visayas region — where Haiyan hit the hardest — including Tacloban and Palo in Leyte, as well as several local communities in Samar. Selection of additional local government units will be based on their needs and “willingness to take part in the program,” according to the official description.

As for funding, the 7.3 million Australian dollars ($6.8 million) committed by DFAT will be spent on programs to strengthen capacity of local government units and communities to manage risks from and adapt to the overall impacts of climate change toward resilient and sustainable development. The money will be administered and facilitated by UNDP — on top of their independent oversight and monitoring function — while the Philippine Climate Change Commission will implement corresponding projects in the local communities and municipalities.

Some of the “proactive” focus and output areas of the program include disaster risk and vulnerability assessments, preparedness and mitigation actions, awareness raising and capacity building, mainstreaming disaster risks in land use and development plans, resiliency building of the poor and vulnerable, and knowledge and information sharing.

Stay tuned for our upcoming video interview with Lucille Sering.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.