Preparedness and resiliency for a vulnerable country

Mother Nature’s fury may be unstoppable but its destruction can be minimized.

A recently concluded forum held in Washington, D.C. focused on the need for preparedness and resiliency, especially in the Philippines, which U.S. State Department managing director for Overseas Citizens Services Michelle Bernier-Toth, described as “prone to natural disasters.”

As mentioned by Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF) chairman Roberto Romulo during his presentation, the United Nations’ World Risk Report for 2014 ranked the Philippines second to Vanuatu due to the country’s exposure to natural phenomena, particularly cyclones.

Forum organizers, US-Philippines Society (US-PS), Center for Strategic and International Studies and US Embassy of the Philippines also held a forum around the same time in 2013. It focused on the Philippine health system, but since it was held a few days after super typhoon Haiyan struck, it also became a venue to seek assistance for typhoon victims. This year, the forum was titled “Readiness and Resilience: Lessons Learned One Year after Typhoon Haiyan.”

Like this year, ZFF also took part in the 2013 forum. It then became a recipient of part of the funds received by US-PS from donors.

ZFF used the donation for a recovery program targeted at pregnant and lactating women of 12 municipalities in Eastern Samar and Samar. The program also helped frontline health workers who were also victims of the typhoon. As Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson said during the 2014 forum, resiliency does not only involve having physically sound structures but also back-up staffing to make sure services are delivered during and after disasters.

Recovery assistance for mothers and frontline health workers

According to ZFF president Ernesto Garilao, the foundation’s limited-time assistance program led to a “surge of mothers” seeking health services, an unusual event for most of the municipalities because oftentimes mothers will only go for checkups if they are gravely ill. Lack of money also discourages mothers from heading to the hospital even if they know theirs may be a complicated delivery.

From 3,000 initially identified mother-beneficiaries, more than 4,200 actually availed of the program’s incentives program by the time it ended last July. No official death among the mothers was recorded during the period, though one mother who delivered in a private lying-in clinic but decided to immediately go home after delivery died the next day when she developed a severe infection and reached a Tacloban City hospital too late.

Garilao said the foundation’s learning from its assistance program underscored the need for a “more resilient health system, wherein the local government units, the health workers and the communities are prepared to ensure that risks and impacts are zero to minimal before, during, and after a disaster.”

He added that resiliency is “the ability of the governance structure and health systems to anticipate, prepare, adapt and transform to any systemic shocks, and bounce back better.”

Resiliency must be part of state-building

Manila Observatory executive director Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga emphasized the need to begin the work for resiliency as “part of state-building and not just a part of response for severe disasters.” According to her, scientists are in the agreement that what happened in Eastern Visayas due to Haiyan can happen in Metro Manila especially since most areas are below sea level.

Loyzaga said that of greater concern is earthquake. According to her, based on the finding of the “Risk Analysis Project,” a Japan International Cooperation Agency study that has been updated through an Australian grant, a 7.2-magnitude quake could separate Metro Manila into four sections. Based on the study, a post-disaster scenario will show that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be greatly outnumbered and have little or no control should even just 10-percent of the four million informal settlers start looking for food for sustenance, similar to what the victims of Haiyan did.

According to Garilao, ZFF has begun piloting the development of a resilient health system in its partner-municipalities in the Samar island provinces. This is being done in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund and Manila Observatory.

Governance and leadership enhancement for resiliency

Garilao said that its work on improving leadership and governance is ZFF’s contribution to enhancing capabilities and making health systems resilient.

“To be resilient is to ensure that local governments will be able to reduce vulnerabilities of groups like mothers and their children. By reducing vulnerabilities, the local government will be able to reduce vulnerabilities, the local government will be able to reduce inequities in any post-disaster situation, by putting in place resilient and responsive development programs that would not only address health concerns, but also social protection, education, livelihood and incomes.”