A recent study by a U.K-based ‘risk analysis’ company shows that 21 cities in the Philippines are among the 100 most-at-risk-of-disasters cities in the world, the most for any nation on Earth. According to those who conducted the study, a major reason for the high risk is the country’s “high corruption” and “high levels of poverty”.
For some humanitarian workers in the Philippines, this is no longer news. But for the rest of us mortals, here are a few simple reasons why our country’s “high corruption” and “high levels of poverty” puts as at “high risk of disasters”:
1. Not all storms are disasters because the latter is man-made
This is something that a lot of Filipinos, especially the government and mass media, gets wrong. For humanitarians and professionals, typhoons, floods, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes are not disasters. They are called ‘hazards’ or ‘hazard events’.
A hazard event only becomes a disaster when the effect of the former is greater than the ability of the affected person/s or community/communities to cope with it. For example, flooding is a very common experience in the informal settler communities living alongside the Tullahan River in Metro Manila. Even a light drizzle or the high tide can cause one. When that happens, people transfer their households items on the first floor of their homes to the second floor.
But during the ‘Habagat’ floods in 2012, the waters reached up to the roofs over their heads. Many of their belongings, including valuables, were destroyed. They could not go to work for days. Since many of them were poor, they did not have any savings to use. If it wasn’t for aid sent by humanitarian groups, many would have resorted to scavenging, looting, or would have starved to death.
So why is it the government’s fault?
2. Poverty makes people more vulnerable to disasters
As shown in the example above, the economic status of a person and community affects the impact of hazards on them. The rich can easily replace destroyed belongings and have extra resources to replace them. The poor, on the other hand, are not able to do the same.
A year after typhoon ‘Yolanda’ devastated many parts of the country, many of the rich and the middle class were able to rebuild their houses. But on the other hand, thousands of families were still living in relocation sites. It’s no surprise that not a single one of these families are classified as ‘rich’ or ‘middle class’.
With the government not doing its mandate to reduce poverty, many Filipinos remain at risk of disasters. Even when foreign governments and simple kind-hearted citizens pour in billions of pesos in assistance, as in the case of typhoon Yolanda, people will remain vulnerable to disasters as long as they are poor.
In fact, some of my colleagues living in Eastern Samar said that in their barangays, houses which were repaired by NGOs after Yolanda were destroyed during typhoon ‘Ruby’ last year. Since they remained poor, they could not rebuild their homes with stronger materials.
3. Corruption means less resources to make us resilient against disasters
Ideally, public funds can be used in a variety of ways to protect us from disasters. It can be used to reduce poverty, build infrastructure to shield us from typhoons (such as evacuation centers, sea walls, and flood pumping stations), and organize systems to handle hazards (orderly early evacuations, stocking of relief goods).
But even under the supposedly ‘clean’ administration of Noynoy Aquino, corruption persists. And to make way for corruption, money has been removed from important services, such as disaster risk reduction.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not something new. This something that some concerned groups and individuals have been trying to convince our government with for decades. These people hoped that Yolanda would finally shake up our authorities to take action. Now, even foreigners are paying attention. And if the government ignores even this, then it’s only a matter of time before the next Yolanda strikes us.