Making Zero Casualty a Reality

“We live life with the assumption we have time.”

I nodded in agreement as I was in the audience listening to Migel Estoque’s talk about the work that Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation does and how getting connected; gathering essential, useful, and personal supplies; and making a plan could reduce disaster risk.

This was part of Rappler’s Agos Summit, held on July 7-8,2017, that highlighted best practices and innovations in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA).

 

Preparing for “The Big One”

I remember being fascinated while experiencing my first earthquake in Baguio back in 1990. As a young boy, I was oblivious to how deadly the disaster was.

These tremors have been happening more often these days with the latest one hitting Leyte. Makes Metro Manila residents even more paranoid over the magnitude 7.2 earthquake expected to be generated by the West Valley Fault.

Will it really happen? We don’t know for sure but Ramon Santiago of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said that the best we could do is to prepare people and to raise awareness. “It’s not the earthquake that kills, it’s the weak and old structures,” he added mentioning special concern over buildings built before 1990.

To further promote a culture of preparedness, a metro-wide earthquake drill (#MMShakeDrill) is scheduled on July 14-17, 2017. Regular drills build confidence helping residents to stay calm as panic causes more harm and even death in times of disaster.

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Baguio Hilltop Hotel during the 1990 earthquake (Photo from Phivolcs).

Nature can save lives

Situated along the Pacific Ocean (an incubator of storms) and the Ring of Fire (where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur), the Philippines has been ranked as the 3rd highest disaster risk nation (2016 World Risk Report), the 13th most climate-vulnerable state (2016 Climate Change Vulnerability Index), and the 1st most exposed to tropical storms (Climate Reality Project). As a country, it seems like we got it all, disaster-wise.

The risk we face from disasters is even more exacerbated by our actions. There’s no proper waste management which causes garbage to clog drainage systems resulting to flooding. Due to deforestation, water flow during heavy rain is intensified which could lead to erosion or landslide. Intensive agriculture makes the country defenseless against the impacts of El Nino and La Nina, making us food insecure.

Senator Loren Legarda in her keynote speech during the Agos Summit mentioned how logging caused the mudslide at Saint Bernard, Leyte in 2006. We remember residents saying that logging also worsened the damages of Typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro. In contrast, a town was saved by mangroves from the wrath of Typhoon Yolanda.

Everything is interconnected. But we have lost our connection to nature. We have to be reminded that our best defense against climate change impacts, quite simply, is caring for our environment.

 

DRR education for children

Children are especially vulnerable to disasters. But children don’t have to be helpless if we provide them with the right Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) knowledge, skills, and attitude.

The Republic Act No. 10121 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” mandates the Department of Education to integrate DRR education in the school curriculum. Every year, the department observes the month of July as the National Disaster Consciousness Month, which is now known as National Disaster Resilience Month.

Related activities, however, are typically limited to disaster response drills and exercises. While these efforts are a good start, they seem to limit students’ skills and knowledge needed in the overall approach of DRR. Moreover, efforts that primarily concentrate on disaster response tend to leave a gap between understanding the interrelation between environmental degradation, climate change, and disasters.

But there are efforts that try to further provide DRR education to different sectors of the society, especially children. One such program is HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

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HANDs Fellows conduct storytelling with children in Thailand (Photo by Kenichi Tanaka).

As a HANDs Fellow, I was able to learn about disaster resilience stories from Navotas, Metro Manila; Bali, Indonesia; Phuket, Thailand; and Kobe, Japan (Apply now to be a HANDs Fellows this year). As an offshoot of the program, we’ll be implementing our action plan focusing on training teachers on creative methodologies for DRR education.

 

Zero casualty during disaster may be difficult to achieve but it has been proven time and again that with adequate information and preparation, it can be achieved. And the best time to be informed and to prepare is now.

 

Also published on x.rappler.com.

HANDs! Project: Looking back and looking forward

People often choose to forget the past as looking back can be painful. But when it comes to disasters, lessons from history should always be remembered. This could help you survive when disasters strike again.

This is one lesson I got from the second and final leg of the HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

In 2016, the HANDs fellows visited Manila, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. This year, we headed to Phuket and Phang Nga, Thailand and Kobe, Japan.

The Thailand phase started with a site visit and dialogue at the Bangla Village Mangrove Forest. Members of the community expressed how the mangroves helped protect them from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and are therefore very motivated in preserving the forest.

We then headed to Baan Nam Kem where we listened to stories of the tsunami survivors and learned about community based disaster risk management.

The rest of our stay in Thailand was spent in Yaowawit School, a real-life education facility for orphans and less privileged, which was founded by German philanthropist Philipp Graf von Hardenberg initially meant to help tsunami victims.

Lectures and workshops on sustainability and gamification were given by Robert Steele, a sustainability expert, and Ruttikorn Vuttikorn, a game designer. After which, fellows had to design games and activities for the “Alarm Cat,” a disaster and environmental education program for students of Yaowawit. It was a joy to interact with the children of the school and be able to promote disaster preparedness and environmentalism through creative means.

We said our khop kun krap (thank you) and bid goodbye to the heat of Thailand as Kobe, Japan’s cold embrace welcomed us.

The trip in Japan began with a tour of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute (DRI) which was established to archive and preserve the memories and lessons from the 1995 Great Hanshin-awaji earthquake. Hearing stories and going through the interactive exhibition of DRI was emotional but the importance of learning from the past to minimize risk and damage in the future is further emphasized.

A session and site visit of another disaster, the Toga River flash flood highlighted how providing sufficient information and education on disaster could save lives.

We learned about local initiatives on disaster prevention and environmental education from non-profit organizations namely Plus Arts, Kiko Network, and Tamba Greenpartner. We also participated in the “Iza! Kaeru Caravan,” a disaster drill program of Plus Arts, and facilitated games and activities for children.

Guided by HANDs adviser, Hirokazu Nagata, the fellows developed disaster and environmental education action plans to be implemented in our respective countries. We got additional inspiration to be more creative and to think outside the box from Kiito, Design and Creative Center in Kobe, which served as our work station.

HANDs Project provided a rare opportunity of visiting many places, learning from various experts and institutions, and forging friendships with co-fellows. And though the research trips ended, this is simply the beginning of more collaborations as we continue building our hopes and dreams towards a more resilient and more environmentally sustainable future.

Photos from HANDs! Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

Learn more about HANDs! Project here.

My HANDs! Project Experience

Putting a ballet dancer, a political cartoonist, a zero waste expert, and a teacher all in one room seems to be an odd combination. But that’s what HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project is all about. It brings people together from different backgrounds and help them leverage art and culture to address issues. Organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, the HANDs! Project explores how disaster and environmental education can be made more effective through creativity.

The program began in the Philippines where I met other HANDs! fellows for this year. It is a diverse group of young professionals and students from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, and Nepal. The passion and drive coming from every single person were invigorating. Hearing their personal stories and the work that they do for the community made me feel inspired and hopeful.

As a starting point, we were introduced to the idea of how “wind-water-soil” types of people help a community. The wind-types provide seeds of inspiration, the soil-types are the ones rooted in the community nurturing the seeds, and the water-types bridge the gap between the two aiding in the growth of the seeds of change.

To further understand social issues, Habi Education Lab, a Manila-based design and research group, conducted a design thinking workshop with the participants. We then had to put design thinking into action as we developed project ideas and prototypes for a relocation community in Navotas, a coastal town in Metro Manila. Being the local, I had to be the translator for the foreigners and I realized how tough a job that is. I had fun nonetheless and once again, it didn’t come as a surprise how our guests noticed the genuine happiness Filipinos have regardless of what situation they are in. I guess it truly is more fun here.

After a week in the Philippines, we all flew to Bali, Indonesia. I once heard you don’t choose Bali, Bali chooses you so we must have all been chosen! Balinese Hinduism is predominantly practiced in this part of Indonesia evident from sculptures, traditions, and altars everywhere meant for daily offerings known as canang sari.

We were able to visit rice paddy fields practicing Subak, a water management system that incorporates the Balinese concept “Tri Hita Karana” – the harmony among people, nature, and God. Pretty much like the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines.

As an environmentalist, I was so happy to learn about best practices of some environmental organizations in Bali. IDEP Foundation shared about permaculture and community-based disaster management. Kopernik talked about project management and how they raise money to fund their community projects. Green School showed how sustainability can be integrated in the classroom and the school system. Navicula, an indie band, illustrated how music can be used for activism.

Additionally, the fellows conducted creative disaster education activities at PAUD Cemara Kasih, a kindergarten school.

It was an enriching experience but it doesn’t end there as we’ll have the second phase of the HANDs! Project study trip in Thailand and Japan next year. After which, we would come up with our respective action plans on creative disaster and environmental education programs. So many things to look forward to. And the best thing is I’m on this journey with amazing people keeping the hope and dreams in me alive.

Photos from HANDs Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.