Is government’s ‘zero-casualty approach’ correct?

Much is being made of the Aquino administration’s ‘zero casualty approach’[1] towards disasters, and the relatively low number of casualties our country suffered during Typhoon Ruby (international name: Hagupit). But is it the correct approach?

Let’s review what many consider as the ultimate goal of disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM): resiliency.

It is defined[2] by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) as: “The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions. 

Comment: Resilience means the ability to “resile from” or “spring back from” a shock. The resilience of a community in respect to potential hazard events is determined by the degree to which the community has the necessary resources and is capable of organizing itself both prior to and during times of need.”

Note the phrase “to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard”. It is not limited to surviving a typhoon (which falls under ‘resist’ and ‘absorb’). There are several other indicators, namely, accommodate and recover. The UNISDR definition elaborates further by stating that recovery should happen in a “timely and efficient manner”.

hagupit poverty map

Now, based on this definition, can we say that the Hagupit-affected communities, especially those in the Eastern Visayas region, are resilient?

Consider this:

  • Many Yolanda survivors are still living in ‘temporary bunkhouses’ more than a year[3] after they lost their homes. Many of which were destroyed by Hagupit. (recovery)
  • Despite their experience with Yolanda, at least 47,781[4] families in around a fourth of Samar Island were still living in houses made of light-weight materials. All of which were promptly destroyed by Hagupit. (resist, absorb)

At this point, you might be thinking like a certain president with the reaction But you did not die, right?

One of the central principles of DRR, and humanitarian work in general, is “the right to life with dignity” (see definition here). Reducing people to an existence where they have to rebuild their houses at least once a year (powerful typhoons now seem to be coming at a yearly basis), making them use up whatever little money they have, being forced to stop sending their children to school, engaging in prostitution, etc., is definitely not a “life with dignity”.

Unless our government overcomes its narrow focus on ‘zero casualties’, we cannot say that they have done their job well.






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