Thursday, 29 October 2009

A local government shows the way

Business Mirror

WHEN presidential economic adviser Joey Salceda took over as governor of Albay province in 2007, his constituents were still reeling from the devastation wrought by a series of destructive calamities in 2006—typhoons Reming and Milenyo and the Mayon Volcano eruption.

As if the typhoons were not destructive enough, mudslides and lahar flows brought more misery to the residents of Albay, sweeping through the villages at the foot of Mayon Volcano, destroying property, farms and infrastructure.

Albay was a pitiful landscape in the wake of typhoons and lahar flows in 2006. All told, the death toll in the province for that year reached 457, with 600 more missing.

Something had to give in a situation where the disaster-prone province has at least five strong typhoons every year, not to mention the periodic rumblings from Mayon Volcano. If nature cannot be stopped from unleashing its fury, people just had to be prepared to move out of harm’s way.

And that was how the new provincial administration did it. The province was prepared for disasters, which called for adopting cost-effective and widely accessible disaster-risk reduction and climate-change adaptation programs.

A permanent disaster-management office was set up—Albay is the only province that has one—with permanent employees and funding of P6 million, equivalent to 4 percent of the provincial budget which goes to climate-change adaptation. This is separate from the 5 percent of the budget that goes to the calamity fund.

The province also has permanent evacuation centers, as opposed to the age-old, simplistic but unproductive remedy of turning schoolhouses into evacuation centers when disaster hits, with dire consequences for public education.

Albay can mobilize people on short notice, thanks to 28 rubber boats, 41 ambulances and public-address systems for all barangays. “Preparedness” has become the slogan in meeting incoming typhoons and volcanic eruptions.

“We eat preparedness for breakfast,” Salceda would quip. “There is really nothing mystical about climate-change adaptation.”

Such measures paid off in terms of reducing loss of lives. Since 2007 Albay has had zero casualty from calamities. Now, other provinces are trying to replicate what Salceda has done.

The advocacy is moving further. Two years ago Salceda called a National Conference on Climate-Change Adaptation, where participants agreed about the urgency of the expedient threats from climate change. As he would describe it, the conference was meant to “convince people that the threats are real.” For instance, the typhoons are stronger and more frequent. That conference focused more on the science of explaining how greenhouse-gas emissions are changing the climate worldwide.

This week saw a follow-up to the meeting two years ago. The National Conference on Climate-Change Adaptation +2 was convened by Salceda with the support of other agencies, including the German Technical Cooperation, or GTZ, and its theme expanded to include policy, practices and financing. He still pressed for the usual theme.

“Disaster-risk reduction and climate-change adaptation are not expensive in the long term. These are huge economic investments and should be pursued under the context of sustainable development, the guiding rule for good governance,” Salceda said at this week’s conference, echoing arguments that activists and scientists had long raised, but which were drowned out by vested interests.

The typhoon-prone province of Albay is a good model for sustainable development, proving that all that’s needed is the willpower to prepare the people to meet the threats of disaster from nature. And, perhaps, the prodding we all got recently, courtesy of Ondoy and Pepeng.

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