“In the past ten years, we’ve seen a shift from disaster recovery to disaster prevention,” said Forest Jarvis, a 2015-2016 American Fulbright Scholar in his end-of-grant presentation.
Jarvis spent nine months in Sorsogon in the Bicol Region for his research on disaster and vulnerability against natural calamities. Typhoon Nona which struck the Philippines in 2015 became his case study for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of local disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures.
In examining the local population of various barangays in Casiguran and Pilar, he carried out surveys, in-person interviews and observations. Of the households which were part of the sample population, 83% were shown to be below the national poverty threshold, earning incomes of around P4,300. There were around six to five members in each household. Thirty percent engaged in farming, 20 percent in fishing and only 5 percent belonged to skilled labor.
Informed and Vigilant
Despite being one of the more disadvantaged communities in the country, Jarvis’ findings revealed that locals were well-aware of disaster preparedness measures.
“Overall I found very high levels of understanding of proper preparation procedures for what happens during typhoons. Essentially all households reported storing supplies, fixing their roofs, making sure that there is less water damage and most people evacuate… “, he said.
Trumping Social Vulnerability
The Bicol Region, being a part of the typhoon belt and being vulnerable to volcanic hazards, is one of the most disaster prone-areas in Luzon. Because of dangers posed by natural calamities within the area, the need to assess the vulnerability of the local population was one of the main thrusts of his study.
Jarvis cited that measuring total vulnerability was a summation of physical, economic and social factors.
“Households and even regions that are more vulnerable physically are vulnerable economically,” he said. The municipalities of Pilar and Casiguran are on the same scale of physical and economic vulnerability but according to Jarvis, the difference lies in each one’s disaster preparedness.
“The municipality of Casiguran is nationality cited for having the best disaster preparedness measures in the country as far as household preparedness and providing seminars and trainings. And you also see much higher organizational membership in Casiguran,” Jarvis explained.
Nonetheless, even with several parts of the Bicol region employing proper protocols for disaster preparedness, poor infrastructure, low income and high population density still contribute to the risk. Compounding it are institutional barriers such as lack of government support for farmers, unequal land distribution, neoliberalism and climate change.
Improving the Current System
According to Jarvis, land tenure directly and directly drives vulnerability. “The main thing I saw is the lack of land titles among survey respondents. There are very high correlations between whether the houses have titles and the vulnerability of houses and also between the overall vulnerability of people. Generally, people who have land titles are generally safer,” he said.
To facilitate the implementation of disaster risk reduction measures within the country, Jarvis recommends mainstreaming overall policy.
Another recommendation he suggests is that “disaster relocation funds or the portion of the funds allotted for preparedness should not be directly replicated on a 5 percent flat rate basis because on some cases, it is not adequate to recover from disasters.”
After the commencement of his Fulbright grant, Jarvis plans to continue his career in development policy as a Research Associate, working on a project on agrarian reform in Davao City.