DRRM policies, financial aid needed in small island communities—HHI study

The report emphasizes the case of Pugad Island applies to disaster-prone small island communities in the Asia-Pacific and equatorial regions

By HHI Resilient Communities Program

Fisherfolk are out for a catch on Pugad river in Hagonoy, Bulacan, Philippines

Fisherfolk are out for a catch on Pugad river in Hagonoy, Bulacan, Philippines, February 22, 2020
Photo by HHI/Mark Toldo 

A new study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) in partnership with the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of Santo Tomas reveals factors hindering community resilience in small island communities in the Philippines. These include limited resources and few policies supporting the implementation of community-based disaster risk reduction and management (CBDRRM). These needs are essential not only locally but also for all small island communities in the Asia-Pacific and equatorial regions which face similar disaster and climate-related challenges, especially when relocation to other safer areas is not a feasible option, the report said.

“Support for low-lying island communities throughout the Asia-Pacific must be a priority for the international community. We know that these communities will have to bear a terrible burden for a climate crisis they had virtually no role in creating,” HHI Resilient Communities Program director Dr. Vincenzo Bollettino said in a statement.

“Larger states have both a strong moral and practical duty to support adaptation measures and think through feasible strategies to support communities where forced migration is inevitable,” Dr. Bollettino added.

The study examined the factors that contribute to or impede the success of community-based leadership of the residents of disaster-prone Barangay Pugad, popularly known as “Pugad Island” in the province of Bulacan in the Philippines, to achieve disaster resilience.

Using participatory action research, a 10-15-member community disaster resilience assessment (CDRA) team was formed by the researchers in 2020. They consisted of eight barangay officials and one leader or representative from organized sectors of the community such as women, fisherfolks, persons living with disabilities, youth, adults, and the local church. All members of the CDRA team were above 21 years old and roughly half were females. The data gathering and focus group discussions, in the Filipino language, were held from February to April 2020.

Limited community resources, policies

The barangay officials and sectoral leaders or representatives in Pugad have voluntarily undergone DRRM capability training sessions and created their CBDRRM plans that have been well-integrated into their overall barangay development plan. However, the study found that the community-based leadership in Pugad continues to struggle with limited funding for the effective implementation of their CBDRRM plans. Sadly, Pugad is not alone in this since the issue they face is but a mere reflection of scarce resources across the entire country.

Although there is an existence of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF), the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (LDRRMF), and the Quick Response Fund (QRF) which is a portion of the NDRRMF, such financial resources are not proportionally allocated across provinces and tend to be heavily focused on disaster response rather than preparedness and resilience, the report cited.

This is further aggravated by the fact that marginalized communities in the country, like small island communities, will continue to face routine destructive typhoons occurring in different parts of the country. Being hit by only one can bring them to a disaster trap. Thus, it is increasingly important for the government, at all levels, to focus on pre-disaster investments, the report explained.

In terms of policy recommendations, the report urges government units and agencies to take a closer look at the situation of small island communities under their jurisdiction. Such communities need policy and financial support in their CBDRRM plans. It will be good to start with assisting such communities in terms of disaster risk financing and disaster insurance education, alongside a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to DRR and gender mainstreaming in disaster management.

Partnerships for pre-disaster investments

The continued onslaught of disasters and climate change impacts to Pugad diminishes the positive impact of resources brought about by the community’s partnerships with external development actors, such as the municipal or provincial government, NGOs, and academic institutions. Such partnerships have brought themselves free DRRM seminars and training sessions, assistance in CBDRRM planning, and DRRM emergency kits. With persistent follow-ups to the municipal or provincial government, they get funding assistance for public infrastructure projects like seawalls, an elementary school, a health station, a covered court, and raising the island inland roads and housing floors, the study found.

However, these disaster mitigation infrastructure projects are often costly, hence, a continuous drain to community resources, especially since such projects often need to be continuously rebuilt or fixed because they are battered down by the ever-increasing frequency and intensity of typhoons, storm surges, flooding, and the occurrence of land subsidence in Pugad.

The report recommends that when tapping into partnerships with development actors, Pugad’s community leaders must focus on generating resources for pre-disaster investments, such as disaster risk financing. It can include local government purchase of insurances to protect government assets and actively promoting disaster insurance education to grassroots communities through formal and informal strategies.

Formal strategies can include developing policies to promote the use of disaster insurance in the public and private sectors, allocating more resources for making disaster insurance affordable, and integrating disaster insurance education in basic education.

Informal strategies can include role models and testimony from local or community leaders, champions, and celebrities, and promotion of disaster insurance education via community-based organizations to reach the grassroots level.

For infrastructure, it is also proposed that the residents in Pugad must invest in stilted housing rather than spending much of their savings and external financial support they receive on regularly fixing their damaged houses due to floods and land subsidence. Stilted housing can be the most effective type of adaptation strategy for people in small island communities in the Philippines who choose to stay over relocation measures, the report suggested.

Other key findings

The study noted the following other key findings in Pugad that are crucial in CBDRRM:

  • There is accountability, transparency, and maintenance of peace and security of their community leadership but getting the active participation of wider members in the community remains a challenge.

  • There is consciousness in upholding the right to life, liberty, and personal security but lacks policies and projects to make people fully aware and claim their rights.

  • There is the inclusion of vulnerable sectors, including women, in disaster risk reduction and management efforts through a convergence strategy, but gender hierarchy and division of labor still permeate in the community-based leadership.

The study entitled “Community-based leadership in disaster resilience: The case of small island community in Hagonoy, Bulacan, Philippines” was authored by Ateneo de Manila University’s Mark Anthony D. Abenir, and HHI’s Lea Ivy O. Manzanero and Dr. Bollettino.

Download and read the full report: https://bit.ly/HHIPugadStudy