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How communities are preparing for climate change in the Philippines

Publication date:
Katrina Allen
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Climate change is likely to increase both the frequency and severity of extreme weather events around the world, such as typhoons and flash floods. Community-based approaches use local knowledge to cope with and adapt to the impacts of climate change. These are quickly becoming an important element in preparing for climate related disasters.Historically, disaster management has been led by
outside ‘experts’ and concentrated on technological solutions. In the past 20
years, however, developing countries have increasingly turned to
community-based approaches. These focus more on building local capacity to
adapt and address the root causes of vulnerability, rather than focusing on
responses to isolated disaster events. Research of early Philippine National
Red Cross initiatives examines how Community-Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP)
programmes can reduce community vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

In the CBDP approach, communities
develop practical skills to help them respond quickly and flexibly to changing environmental
conditions and possible future disasters. In the Philippines, CBDP projects work
with barangay communities, the
lowest level of local government. The barangay communities have formal
leadership structures, but decision-making remains a negotiated process amongst
communities. The main functions of the CBDP approach are to:
create opportunities for disaster managers to pass technical
information and training on to local people,
and for local people to communicate their needs and priorities to disaster
raise awareness of
local hazard risks and the causes of vulnerability
allow disaster managers to
access local knowledge, ideas and resources, and build on local coping and
adaptive strategies
engage disaster managers
in community processes, such as early warning systems that are linked to
regional or national systems, but that also use local information and build on
existing local capacities
mobilise local people and
link communities with the coping and adaptation strategies of governments, non-government
organisations (NGOs) and donors.
Several factors influence the success
of CBDP projects, including funding and the political situations in which the
projects are carried out. The main weakness is that local communities often
lack the resources and institutions that allow them to make key decisions and
to address bigger issues that cause vulnerability, such as deforestation.
In the Philippines, community-based approaches
have helped to reduce vulnerability and strengthened the ability of local
people to adapt to climate change. But CBDP initiatives work best when integrated
into wider disaster prevention and sustainable development programmes, rather
than when used as stand-alone projects. If the social and political aspects of
vulnerability are not addressed, then CBDP projects can disempower local
communities. To avoid this, the researcher recommends:
management programmes should further prioritise local knowledge and
institutions over outside experts.
Local communities
must be given the power to take decisions and act on them independently,
without relying on supporting organisations.
Local communities
must contribute to Disaster Management policies.
Government and
NGOs should develop partnerships to make it easier to support small-scale
disaster management initiatives that are integrated into wider sustainable
development policy and planning. They should also run projects that address the
social and political causes of vulnerability.
All groups
involved in CBDP should recognise they bring different sets of values and
expectations to the projects.