10/10/2012 – When the earth started to shake the Municipal Mayor of St. Bernard, Rico C. Rentuza, knew that he had only minutes to assess the situation. The destruction caused by the earthquake was the least of his worries. He knew that such tremors could spark deadly tsunamis, huge sea waves that could smash onto the coastline with massive destructive power.
However he also knew that technology and training were his allies. The 7.6 earthquake triggered PHIVOLCS, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, to raise tsunami alert to level 3. Due to previously-held simulation exercises with the local community, ten coastal barangays in Saint Bernard heeded the warning and were able to evacuate quickly. The evacuation was carried out according to the contingency plan drafted by the barangay and local governments in 2009. While the alert was cancelled soon afterwards, this real-life event had shown that previous investments in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) had really paid off.
“This was a very good illustration of the improved disaster risk reduction capacity of the local communities. The EU supports this kind of community-based disaster risk reduction and management”, explains the head of the EU Delegation to the Philippines, Ambassador Guy Ledoux.
Since 1998, the EU’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has invested some €7.7 million in specific projects for DRR under its “Disaster Preparedness” or DIPECHO program. For the 2012-2013 project cycle alone, some €2.4 million (PHP130m) are being committed to such projects which combine Community Based activities with capacity building on the regional and national level. For Saint Bernard this meant that at least € 384,000 (PHP 20million) in DRR funds were made available in the past five years while the local government contributed € 48,000 (PHP 2.6million) as their counterpart. The EU contribution is on top of other equally significant inputs of other local and international NGOs to the municipal and local government units.
The EU Ambassador as guest speaker in the National Conference for Effective Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Practices held on 28 September 2012 in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte commended the collaborative efforts of the local government units, NGOs and the communities to help save lives and to lessen damages in times of disasters. The Conference gathered more than a 100 disaster risk reduction practitioners from high–risk communities from Regions II, V, XII, CAR and CARAGA targeted by the EU disaster preparedness programme. It was an initiative supported by the Office of Senator Loren Legarda, Asia-Pacific Institute for Green Development, Local Government of Saint Bernard, CARE Nederlands, GIZ, and the European Union enabled participants to draw lessons from the exchange of experiences and best practices in disaster risk reduction.
“The Saint Bernard experience is a good example of how local communities with the support of civil society organisations and collaboration with local government authorities can spearhead collective action along disaster risk reduction”.
By Matthias Eick,
Regional Information Officer in Bangkok