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Better disaster mitigation should not be far behind

We have long known that the Philippines is geographically calamity-prone. As our islands straddle the typhoon belt, an area in the western Pacific Ocean where a third of the world’s tropical cyclones form, the low-lying areas of our country are at risk of severe devastation.

The recent one, Super Typhoon Odette (international name, Rai) left hundreds of people dead, hundreds of thousands homeless, millions without food and water, numerous roads flooded, and billions worth of infrastructure damaged. How saddening it is to remember that it struck when our fellowmen in the Visayas and Mindanao regions were in good spirits as Christmas day was just around the corner. The damage left by Typhoon Odette is heartbreaking.

Our country isn’t only in the typhoon belt—it is also located within the Ring of Fire. We live with the risk posed by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In January 2020, Taal Volcano’s eruption reached Alert Level 4, which meant that hazardous eruption was imminent. Thousands were evacuated, classes were suspended, and hundreds of thousands of residents around the area including nearby towns and cities were affected. It also cost our economy billions of pesos. Taal Volcano’s seismic activity continued into the early months of 2021.

The World Risk Index 2021 ranked the Philippines eighth, with an index of 21.39, among 181 countries. We belong to the three Southeast Asian nations that fall under the “very high risk” category, along with Brunei (22.77) and Cambodia (15.8).

The toll and what can be done

Disasters resulting from natural calamities impact not only human life and well-being in the short term but also the loss of livelihood and funds that could be channeled to development in the long term. During these times, national spending go to relief efforts as economic activities are disrupted, especially in the agriculture sector. We lose an average of 1.7% of our economic output each year due to typhoons alone, according to estimates by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2021. Moreover, by their approximation, we may have lost a total of $20 billion in the last 30 years since 1990—solely due to typhoons.

We can always prepare for a rainy day, so to speak. For many years, the ADB has recommended that we focus on disaster prevention and management. Immediate response through relief efforts during disasters is part of the process of humanitarian aid, but disaster mitigation provides the structure in the long run. After all, it is the keystone of managing emergencies as it involves putting measures in place that lessen the impacts of climate-related crises if not keeping them at bay. Resilience may not only be required of us as a people but increasing disaster resilience may be required of the country’s infrastructure, along with many other variables in the disaster equation.

The ADB has underscored the need for wider insurance coverage for disasters. Like all other disaster-prone countries, the Philippines should have financial protection in times of devastation brought about by natural calamities. 

Helping to ease the burden

We have lived with natural calamities year in and year out, but it seems like the magnitude of the impact we have seen throughout the years has increased. We are seeing stronger typhoons and cities submerged in floods never seen before in our lifetime, resulting in huge losses in life and property. On top of this, the pandemic happened, and we are still continuously battling it.  We do our part in the best way possible. 

To invoke our Bayanihan spirit and inspire more supporters, I humbly share what we have done so far since the aftermath of Super Typhoon Odette.  Through BPI Foundation, BPI provided P2.21M worth of relief packs for badly affected communities in Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Surigao in collaboration with the #BrigadaAyala relief operations. Several of our BPI Bayan groups from affected areas led the packing and distribution of relief goods that benefitted almost 4,500 families or 22,500 individuals.

Natural disasters and unfortunate events are constant in our part of the world.  For me, what matters is that we are more prepared to manage the situation moving forward and more importantly, we are all willing to work together to build a stronger and better Philippines each time a disaster or a crisis strikes.