Benguet town is community resiliency model

By BERNICE LEE
www.nordis.net

Traversing the major streets in the city, one would notice big tarp materials on the observance of National Disaster Consciousness Month. But what does it mean to be disaster conscious? The small town of Tublay may have the answer.

According to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Benguet is prone to hydro-meteorological hazards like typhoons and monsoons’ heavy rainfall, causing landslides and localized flooding. At least 18 typhoons struck the province from 2006 to 2010, 13 of which caused heavy losses and damages.

The municipality of Tublay is among the disaster hotspots in the province and in the region, being vulnerable to hazards like rain-induced landslides and flooding. However, despite being a fifth class municipality, Tublay has managed to best other towns and received the OCD’s Gawad Kalasag 2015 for its disaster and climate resilience programs. In the same year, Tublay was also a recipient of the coveted Seal of Good Local Governance, which includes environmental protection programs and disaster preparedness in its criteria.

Through one of their recent tree-planting activities, one can begin to understand the collective and holistic approach being applied in the disaster management and environmental programs by the municipality.

Community and unity as disaster resilience essentials

It was not the usual tree-planting activity where volunteers plant trees in designated areas, then leave the survival of the newly-planted trees to the conditions of the place. On the contrary, the tree-planting at the Ambongdolan watershed in Tublay is an example of a planned comprehensive strategy that addresses not just environmental concerns, but integrates livelihood and community involvement.

For one, the participants involved a mixture of local government employees and officials, volunteers from a non-government organization, and the local people’s organization Citizens of Ambongdolan for the Revitalization of the Environment (CARE).

According to Abner Lawangen, Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer (MDRRMO) of Tublay, the Save the Ambongdolan Watershed project is part of the municipal environmental initiative called Tublay Ecological Conservation for Livelihood and Economic Advancement Program or ECoLEAP which integrates livelihood into the DRRM and climate change adaptation programs.

“The issue of disaster and how to address it cannot be compartmentalized as a separate concern because it affects all aspects of society,” said Lawangen.

He added that the ECoLEAP in Ambongdolan provides the ecological needs of the community through revitalizing the watershed through reforestation and agroforestry, while addressing the vulnerabilities to soil erosion and water scarcity. Through the coffee trees planted, the community will also have an alternative income source to augment their income from vegetable farming, which is vulnerable to climate hazards that continually hit the region.

He also shared that one of the biggest plus factor for the program is local community involvement. The ECoLEAP was started in 2013, with thorough discussion and meticulous planning which determined that coffee was best suited for the conditions of the area. The office then initiated community organizing with a series of meetings and trainings to ensure the community’s acceptance and full participation in the project. Thus, CARE was established as the main caretakers of the program in the community, while the local government conducted regular monitoring and assistance.

Moreover, the ECoLEAP is also being implemented in phases in other barangays like Ba-ayan, Daclan, Ambassador, and Caponga, with the latter two set to start planting by 2017. The program is not exclusive to coffee as fruit trees and bamboos are also encouraged. Lawangen also assured that the local government fully supports the program as it has procured machinery that will process coffee products coming from these communal coffee plantations.

Monroe Arsay, Jr, who currently works as community organizer for the MDRRM Office, said there is a sense of fulfilment to be part of the monitoring and coming first harvest of the coffee, since he also took part in planting the coffee trees when he was still a student.

Taking the grassroots and multi-sectoral approach to disaster preparedness

Alongside these climate change adaptation and disaster prevention programs, the MDRRM office is also taking measures to raise the capacity of all sectors in disaster preparedness.

Instead of merely complying with the yearly mandatory earthquake drills, the Tublay office makes extra effort to ensure that the orchestrated drills become truly learning opportunities relevant to institutions conducting it and that responsive systems are put in place.

“The logic of the drills is to help people internalize what to do in case of disaster, so actions become automatic and part of the culture, but this aspect remains a challenge,” admits Lawangen, but added that they will continue to work on these in the communities and schools across the municipality.

He added that the awards they receive serve as their consolation and morale boost to continue the work, as these signify that they are on the right track in implementing DRRM programs. The municipality was recently given recognition as the over-all Best in DRRM in a study conducted by the UP Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management, which was based on the perception and appreciation of the community people through conducted household survey interviews, and review of municipal LGU documents.

As a framework, Lawangen believes that DRRM should be a convergence, a synchronization of government support and strengthened capacity of the grassroots/community, the latter being the biggest factor.

Hence, DRRM in Tublay was not singled out but integrated into sustainable environment programs, institutionalized in local development plans and engaging other offices and institutions. Capacitation programs for communities and stakeholders through information and education campaigns were regularly conducted and included refresher courses and upgraded trainings, drills and simulations. The full utilization of the DRRM budget is also ensured after thoroughly assessing the needs and areas for improvement.

Lawangen believes that these practices which propelled their DRRM are not new concepts; it is a matter of innovating, adapting to the local conditions, and really putting these into practice.

Ultimately, disasters can be avoided; all it takes is our concerted effort. # nordis.net

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