Building resilient communities: Disaster Risk Reduction in the Philippines
UK Shadow Minister for International Development Tony Cunningham recently visited the Philippines to see how UNICEF is helping children on the ground after the devastation of Tropical Storm Washi. Here's his blog about the things he saw, the people he met and why it's so vital to prepare for disasters like this one.
I’ve recently returned from the Philippines, where I spent a week learning how important Disaster Risk Reduction, or DRR, is in a world with a growing number of natural disasters.
As a member of the European Parliament I was fortunate enough to travel extensively around Africa, but until now I’d only briefly visited South East Asia. This trip was a fantastic opportunity to go to the Philippines, and witness firsthand the challenges that they face but also their continued efforts to prepare for these.
During the trip, we had the opportunity to look at the individual case of the Washi flood. Washi hit the Southern Island of Mindanao in mid December 2011. Shockingly it claimed the lives of an estimated 2,500 people. The destruction was difficult to witness - the water had literally washed away everything from these communities. Seeing this made me realise just how important DRR is, and how crucial UNICEF are in helping to do this effectively.
Tony Cunningham surveys the damage left by Tropical Storm Washi. © UNICEF UK/Philippines/2012/Jeoffrey Maitem
Our trip was jam packed. We met with an excellent range of people from a spectrum of backgrounds, from scientists, who explained to us why this typhoon caught the community unawares, to local government, small NGOs and local UNICEF staff – all of whom were incredibly passionate about the excellent work they were doing on DRR. It was a pleasure to meet with Senator Loren Legarda, a fiery and passionate woman leading the government towards an excellent DRR plan.
It was clear that the Philippines are a brilliant example of a country dealing with natural disasters. The legislation was world class, and the enthusiasm ample. Yet we must not forget that, though this is a Middle Income Country, they still need vital funds to continue their work. Despite huge economic gains 27% of the population, and 42% of children, live below the poverty line. It is often these people who are most affected by natural disasters.
Children in Barangay Banaba doing a performance they prepared about the environment. © UNICEF UK/Philippines/Kat Palasi/2012
I saw UNICEF staff working tirelessly, making sure that those who managed to escape from the floods were cared for in the camps. Up to 30,000 people were forced to move to these temporary camps, living in hot, cramped conditions. UNICEF worked hard to make sure that water and sanitation were dealt with as a top priority - it was clear that the humanitarian emergency cluster system had worked very well.
I ended my trip impressed with how UNICEF were working at every level of society. From installing toilets in the camps to meeting with senior government officials, UNICEF were there – every step of the way.