The Sendai Framework: the Impact of the Past on the Present in the aftermath of typhoon Odette

By Ricardo Jalad, Administrator, Office of Civil Defense, and Undersecretary, Department of National Defense, and Dr. Selva Ramachandran, Resident Representative, UNDP Philippines

June 10, 2022

Prepare to Win Tsunami Drills/UNDP Philippines

Situated along both the Pacific Typhoon Belt and the so-called ring of fire, the Philippines has a long history of dealing with the devastating impacts of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural hazards. The country has the unfortunate distinction of being hit by an average of 21 tropical cyclones annually. Being an archipelago with long stretches of coastal areas makes the Philippines highly vulnerable to impact of climate change as well.

The consequences have been devasting, with thousands of lives lost over previous decades, and economic losses in the hundreds of billions in terms of direct losses alone. But each disaster has also brought with it lessons on how to better prepare, avoid the loss of life, and reduce economic devastation and damage to infrastructure.

These lessons have served to make a dramatic difference in recent years, saving thousands of lives. Regretfully, however, the loss of infrastructure and economic devastation persists. Learning from risk assessments, data, and action building back better in recovery from disasters, is crucial to building resilience for the future. 

So, in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette, there must be an even stronger resolve for risk-informed development.

In March 2015, with the benefit of hindsight, the move by the Government of the Philippines, along with 187 member states, to help lead the approval of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction during the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was vital.

The shift from managing disasters to managing disaster risk by bringing a greater focus on preparedness and prevention has paid off massively.

The devastation following the Great East Japan Earthquake and its cascading economic effects beyond the country’s borders; the impact of Cyclone Pam on the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, the fury of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal; and the memories of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 were impetus enough to build back better in recovery, and for ensuring that no one is left behind.

At 315 km per hour, the strength of Typhoon Yolanda exceeded most existing coping mechanisms and capacities, ripping apart infrastructure, devastating communities, and public and private institutions.

Stakeholders including UNDP knew that rebuilding must focus on enhancing resilience. While typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions among other natural hazards are inevitable, the high death tolls and huge economic impact should not be.

The actions and policies taken by the Philippines authorities to protect people and infrastructure is evidenced by investments made since Typhoon Haiyan in science-based risk assessment, improved early warning systems, coordinated approach from national agencies, and reinforcing the important leadership role of local officials.

While the impact of Typhoon Yolanda resulted in unwanted outcomes, this also provided an opportunity to incorporate resiliency measures, including strengthening risk governance, in the rebuilding process. More importantly, it helped restore immediate access to government services both to national and local, crucial to sustaining lives and livelihoods. This all paid off when typhoon Odette, hit recently.

Working ahead of landfall, authorities pre-emptively evacuated a total of 828,704  individuals and provided assistance to a total of 1,816,603 individuals in evacuation centers, hence saving many lives.

Even now the lessons from the Yolanda experience have served as a reference point for both the Philippines Government and UNDP Philippines as we continue to enhance the effectiveness of resilient recovery measures.

As the midterm review of the Sendai framework kicks off, the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, in collaboration with UNDP, is taking stock of progress. With Typhoon Odette, devastating many provinces, the retrospective review can help guide future policies and strategies.

The mid-term review sought to consider the complexities of recovery for communities exposed to systemic and multidimensional risks. With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and high exposure to geological hazards, there is a need to build resilience to historical events, as well as future climate change risks. Given our experience from the pandemic and global warming, we know that building resilience is primordial to achieve sustained national growth and security.