Citizens Disaster Response Center | CDRC

Exercise your right to make a difference: Examining the human-aspect of ‘natural’ disasters in the Philippines

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Apr 10

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A revolution in how we view our environment is needed. This concept extends far past any country’s borders.  Issues can no longer be viewed as individual events with easily measurable impacts.  We live in a closed-system environment and within it everything is interconnected. This system includes more than just our natural systems of water, air and land. It contains economies, global politics, women’s rights, education and well, everything.  The energy behind the revolution is powered by humans, like you and me.  Some feel this revolution is already happening. Are you part of it? – Whitney Radforth
There are many characteristics that define the Philippines from any other place on earth. It’s an archipelago comprised of more than 7100 islands. It’s situated on volcanic landmass that provides arable land for agriculture and supports the growth of forests. It’s heavily endowed with natural resources and mineral deposits. And it’s one of the most biologically mega-diverse places on earth. The list goes on!  There is abundant proof that the Philippines is a rich country, but why despite these characteristics is there so much human and environmental suffering?

A revolution in how we view our environment is needed. This concept extends far past any country’s borders.  Issues can no longer be viewed as individual events with easily measurable impacts.  We live in a closed-system environment and within it everything is interconnected. This system includes more than just our natural systems of water, air and land. It contains economies, global politics, women’s rights, education and well, everything.  The energy behind the revolution is powered by humans, like you and me.  Some feel this revolution is already happening. Are you part of it? – Whitney Radforth

There are many characteristics that define the Philippines from any other place on earth. It’s an archipelago comprised of more than 7100 islands. It’s situated on volcanic landmass that provides arable land for agriculture and supports the growth of forests. It’s heavily endowed with natural resources and mineral deposits. And it’s one of the most biologically mega-diverse places on earth. The list goes on!  There is abundant proof that the Philippines is a rich country, but why despite these characteristics is there so much human and environmental suffering?

According to the  EM-DAT: The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database, the Philippines ranked 1st in terms of the country with the most reported natural disaster events (event= +100 people affected) in 2009. And of these disasters reported, the Philippines ranked 3rd for the number of mortality and victims caused by an event. What are the contributing factors that make the Philippines so vulnerable to these disasters?

Britannica Encyclopedia - Manila: garbage dump

Britannica Encyclopedia - Manila: garbage dump

The statistics gathered by the Philippine Environmental Governance Project force us to take off the rose-colored glasses in order to answer that question. The Project found that over 100,000 ha of forests are lost every year, resulting in less than 6% of original forest cover remaining. About 70% of all the coral reefs have been destroyed due to overfishing and destructive fishing practices. They reported that less than 40% of solid waste is actually collected; the rest left to clog rivers and streets. This results in almost 58% of all groundwater contaminated and only 7% of domestic effluents being managed. And although these activities do not directly cause disasters, they are most definitely contributing factors to the severity and frequency of disasters in the Philippines.

Now, it’s important to differentiate between natural and human-induced causes of disasters.  Natural disasters are for the most part considered just that; natural, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Natural causes of disasters exist without the influence of humans. For example the Philippines is situated in an area susceptible to earthquakes which is not influenced by humans. Therefore, earthquakes can be seen as a natural disaster.

However, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to blame disasters on nature alone. There almost always exists a human component which can influence the severity and frequency of disasters.  For example, a human-induced cause of disaster is one that is a direct result of human activity such as deforestation causing landslides. This concept also includes the more pressing phenomenon of climate change. Due to human waste and consumption, the production of damaging greenhouse gases is causing air and water temperatures to increase. The worst part is, the effects of a warming climate are still not completely understood, but it can be assumed that disasters will definitely be on the rise. The point being, human activities play a large role in influencing the way disasters affect environments and the people who live in them.  And it’s up to us, global citizens, to do what we can to slow down climate change and reverse environmental degradation.

For two consecutive years, the Philippines have demonstrated the most local participation in the annual Earth Hour event. According to the Earth Day Official Website, On March 29th over 10 million Filipinos in 647 cities and municipalities switched off their lights for Earth Hour, saving an estimated 611MWh of electricity – equivalent to a temporary shutdown of a dozen coal-fired power-plants. It is a great accomplishment for a single moment in time, but will things return as they were before at 9:01 pm?

Here are some ideas of what you can do every day to help your environment prevent and prepare for disasters.

  • Be Prepared. The best defense is a strong offense. Organize your community to conduct disaster preparedness training. Replace fears with security; and plan, practice and perfect your response to disasters.
    CDRC Evacuation Center Management for Mayon citizens

    CDRC Evacuation Center Management for Mayon citizens

  • Keep Air Clean. Limit your greenhouse gas contribution by walking and biking, and as a last resort use public transportation or car pool. Ensure your vehicle passes its safety test and is running efficiently. Support industries that have passed internationally recognized environmental standards, such as ISO14000/ISO14001.
  • Replant. If ever you are required to cut down vegetation or trees, replant what you cut. Try to replant near shorelines, mountain slopes and environmentally sensitive areas to prevent soil erosion.
  • Conserve Water. Refrain from using large amounts of water during hottest parts of the day (10-4pm). Collect rainwater to use for gardens and agricultural fields, fix leaky faucets and be aware of changes in water reservoirs.
  • Build Sustainably.  Do not develop shorelines, river banks, or mountain slopes for development. Conserve these areas as natural buffer zones; they could save your life. Equip your buildings so they can withstand typhoons, earthquakes, and other disasters. And if possible, build with recycled materials.
  • Manage Extraction of Nonrenewable Resources. What we have now, is all we’ll ever have. Support ethical mining, so that communities and the environment do not pay the price. Properly managing mineral wealth can bring economic benefit to all Filipinos.
  • Fish Sustainably. Sustainable fishing is profitable for everyone if done correctly. Don’t be caught taking the last, and encourage ethical fishing in your community.
  • Map your Footprint. Figure out how much energy is required for you to live you daily life. Once it’s mapped, set goals to shrink it in half. www.myfootprint.org – The results will shock you!
  • Educate. Share your knowledge with everyone around you. To create action we need an educated community who will stand up for what is right.
  • www.earthday.org

    www.earthday.org

With International Earth Day on April 22nd fast approaching, an opportunity exists for Filipinos to show yet again what environmental commitment means. The real purpose of these international events is not to momentarily decrease energy consumption or plant as many trees as you can in one day, rather it’s about collective education and awareness. It works to evoke reflection for future action. This knowledge can be harnessed in various ways to seek many different productive outcomes. For some, lobbying the government to make environmental issues more of a priority might be suitable. For others, teaching their children about sustainability through composting and recycling activities is the way to go. But for most it serves as a reminder that we can and need to do more to support the health and longevity of our planet.

For more information on how you can get involved with Earth Day events this year, or to register your own Earth Day event please visit, http://www.earthday.org/countries/philippines.

References:

1.Alejo, A.S. Earth (2010, March 30) Hour 2010 Report: Why local celebrities cared. Manila Bulletin. Retrieved 9 April 2010 from http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/250317/earth-hour-2010-report-why-local-celebrities-cared

2.AsiaPulse. (2009, February 6). Mineral Deposits to Save Philippines from Global Crisis. Break-Day Henan Liming Heavy Industry Science & Technology Co.,Ltd. Retrieved 9 April 2010 from http://www.break-day.com/ver3.0/news/industry/42.htm

3.Clean Development Mechanism Philippines. (2006)  Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Retrieved 11 April 2010 from http://cdmdna.emb.gov.ph/cdm/public/cdm-home.php?main=home

4.Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. (2010) “Disaster Data: A Balanced Perspective”. Issue No. 19. February 2010.

5.Earth Hour Pilipinas Official Website. “Earth Hour 2010 a Resounding Success!”  World Wildlife Fund, Retrieved 12 April 2010 from http://www.wwf.org.ph/earthhour/2010/03/earth-hour-2010-a-resounding-success/

6.Ecological Footprint Quiz. Redefining Progress – The Nature of Economics. Retrieved 14 April 2010 from http://www.myfootprint.org/en/

7.Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration. DOST Service Institute. Retrieved 12 April 2010, from http://www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph/

8.Philippine Environmental Governance Project. Retrieved 10 April 2010, from http://ecogovproject.denr.gov.ph/Index.htm

9.Philippine Profile. Conservation International Organization. Retrieved 13 April 2010 from http://www.conservation.org/explore/asia-pacific/philippines/Pages/overview.aspx

10.Philippines Earth Day Network. Official Site. Retrieved 9 April 2010 from http://www.earthday.org/countries/philippines

11.Republic of the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 2007. Retrieved 12 April 2010, from http://www.denr.gov.ph/

12.Rodriquez, J. et al. (2009) Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2008. Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters.