A few days short of Christmas day, Super Typhoon Rai, locally known as Odette, ravaged the southeastern part of the Philippines with sustained winds of 160 mph. It made its first landfall on Siargao island, a popular tourist destination, on December 16th, where roughly 200,000 individuals were evacuated from homes. Rai was the 15th storm to hit the country and is one of the strongest storms of 2021.
The typhoon rapidly intensified on the day before its landfall. Within 24 hours, its speed increased by 85 mph, strengthening from Category 1 to Category 5 storm, surpassing all the predictions that weather forecasters made, leaving less time for disaster risk reduction mobilization and evacuations. The rapid intensification events have increased in the recent years and regarded as one of the effects of global warming.
Schools and offices were suspended, local and regional air travel was disrupted, several power outages occurred, and coronavirus vaccination efforts were paused in some affected areas. As of January 28th, the authorities recorded 409 fatalities, 1,384 injuries, and 65 people missing due to the typhoon, and the damages to agriculture and infrastructure reached around ₱ 16.8 billion (€ 294 million) and ₱ 17.3 billion (€ 303 million), respectively.
The most vulnerable to climate change
The Philippines, a low-middle-income country, is located in the typhoon belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire making it highly susceptible to natural disasters. Aside from typhoons, other catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, and flashfloods are recurrent. In fact, the country ranks 4th in the most affected nations for the period of 2000 to 2019 in the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, preceded by Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and Haiti.
As they say, disasters discriminate the same way people are discriminated against, as poverty is correlated to risk vulnerability. Although, the number of economic losses is greater in higher-income countries as direct consequences of natural disasters, fatalities, adversity, and other existential threats are more extensive in countries that are less able to prepare, finance, and respond. Furthermore, economic damages when estimated as a percentage of GDP was found to be higher (0.22%) in developing countries than in developed ones (0.13%). Since 1990, 92% of mortality related to natural hazards has occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
People and small businesses with limited resources usually suffer unequally in the aftermath of a disaster. Coping is more challenging for them as they rarely benefit from social and financial safety nets, have less or no savings to buffer disaster losses, depend on fewer assets, and have limited access to insurance, among others. Not to mention the other systemic problems such as corruption, weak governance, and other political risks involved in most low-income countries that aggravate the condition to further hardships, leading to business closures or loss of livelihoods, and intergenerational transfer of poverty. Needless to say, as natural calamities become more frequent, the cumulative damages get even more extensive, long-lasting, and repeating.
A call for collective action
Clearly, there is inequality in disaster risk and resilience. The underprivileged receive greater impact from climate change even when they contribute the least to global emission and consume the minimal global energy. To break this cycle and to address the urgency of climate change, focusing on building resilience among societies and its people is a must. This is emphasized in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which aims for:
“The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.”
Endorsed by the UN General Assembly and adopted in 2015, this framework provides member states with concrete actions to protect development gains from the risk of disaster. It works jointly with other 2030 Agenda agreements such as The Paris Agreement on Climate Change, The Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the New Urban Agenda, and the Sustainable Development Goals. It emphasizes the importance of collaboration and coordination among stakeholders such as the state, the local government, and private sector, among others, to become successful in managing disaster risks.
It outlines its seven targets and four priority areas found below:
Role of private sectors
Corporate involvement in addressing social problems has strong roots in the Philippines. From funding initiatives in 1970s to direct involvement in community projects amidst economic and political crisis under Martial Law regime in the 1980’s. The participation of private sectors in disaster management became more apparent when the magnitude 7.2 Luzon earthquake happened in 1990. Through time, the humanitarian assistance expanded from relief distribution to rehabilitation efforts through livelihood programs, advocating improvements on disaster management policies and actions, public education, and building disaster resilient communities in the country.
During the wake of the supertyphoon Rai, big corporations were quick to respond to the pleas of help from the hardest hit areas in the Philippines. From relief packs such as food and drinking water, hygiene kits, and fuel to services such as free calls, mobile charging stations, as well as power and internet restoration. This was made possible through coordination of private sectors with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF).
Aside from providing platform for corporations and partners to collaborate and coordinate with other participants such as the government and international humanitarian organizations, the PDRF also promotes awareness of the disaster risks and encourages integration of disaster preparedness in business operations. Furthermore, they support the enhancement of MSME – Micro and Small-Medium Enterprises’ business continuity capacity by connecting them with larger organizations.
The private sector accounts for more than 80% of investment in every country, making it a good channel to steer development to a more risk-informed direction. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction has defined the specific roles and responsibilities of private and financial sector that highlight the need for long-term engagement of private sector through risk-informed decisions and actions on investments and management practices:
- integrate disaster risk management, including business continuity, into business models and practices through disaster-risk-informed investments, especially in MSME’s;
- engage in awareness-raising and training for their employees and customers;
- engage in and support research and innovation, as well as technological development for disaster risk management;
- share and disseminate knowledge, practices and non-sensitive data;
- and actively participate, as appropriate and under the guidance of the public sector, in the development of normative frameworks and technical standards that incorporate disaster risk management.
What do these mean to the Business Continuity and Resilience industry?
The Sendai framework provides a springboard for the industry to tackle disaster risks at depth. The following are some of the takeaways that we may consider and expand further:
- Integration. Promote the integration of disaster risk management into Business Continuity Program. Risk vulnerability in the context of natural disasters varies among individuals and societies, and it is important to recognize these differences within the program to make it more effective. During a disaster, one staff’s needs may be different from the other, or a branch office in another location may be dealing with the calamity differently from the main office.
- Empowerment. Climate change awareness and disaster risk reduction education for employees, customers, and even the general public should also be part of the business continuity program. Participating in relief efforts may also be a form of training and awareness and can build the culture of helping others in the company.
- Inclusiveness. Our industry professionals have the breadth and depth of knowledge in building resilience in businesses. It is high time to be more proactive in reaching out small organizations with less resources and capacity, listen and learn from them, and adapt our knowledge to their needs to enhance their resilience. Professional bodies in the field may have a central role in linking with these organizations, especially those in low-income countries. Partnering with or supporting non-government entities that assist MSME’s in building resilience is also possible.
Participation. Providing more avenues for business continuity and resilience professionals to deeply discuss and exchange best practices or approaches to disaster risks must be encouraged. The more we exchange insights, the more we can feel the new urgency of acting on climate change.
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Author: Lucil Aguada