Turn Tragedy in the Philippines to Adaptation Action

I mourn with my Philippine kaibigans about the incalculable death and destruction wrought by Typhon Haiyan on that beautiful country and its people.  I lived and worked in the Philippines in the mid-1990s while at the U.S. Agency for International Development. I consider the country my second home.  I feel a deep sadness that so many lives were lost. Yet, I do not feel hopeless.  I know that  ways exist to increase the Philippine’s resiliency, and the solutions lie within the country, the corporate sphere and the development community.

When a climate-related disaster strikes, I turn to ND-GAIN to help provide me with answers to how to prevent future calamities.   It probably isn’t a surprise to those who have seen the Haiyan destruction that the Philippines ranks 99 of 176 countries on the ND-GAIN index..  When looked at from the perspective of the country’s vulnerability to climate disruption and its readiness to adapt, it is in the highly vulnerable and not-ready quadrant of the Readiness Matrix. It possesses a great need for investment and innovation to improve readiness as well as a great urgency for action.

Since 1995, however, the Philippine’s’ relative GAIN score has headed in the wrong direction, initially ranking 87th of 176 countries.   Several factors related to ND-GAIN account for this deterioration, including the growing perception that political unrest will trigger a destabilized government or an actual coup by unconstitutional or violent means. Other factors: its rate of population growth in urban centers and the natural-disaster risk for populations living in cities of more than 750,000 people.  If they reflected awhile that they rank with Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire and Iran in terms of their political stability and nonviolence score, they might strive to strengthen the institutions that hold the government accountable.

Several initiatives could help the Philippines in the near and longer term.  First, simply assume that decreasing the country’s exposure to extreme events involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that the Philippines always will lie in the eye of the storm during typhoon season regardless of the extent of climate change.

The real opportunity lies in decreasing Filipinos’ sensitivity to climate disruption, increasing their adaptive capacity and boosting their economic, social and political readiness. These will increase their resilience and keep them on a path to market growth, human thriving and a caring and outward-looking world view for which they’re famous.

Based on ND-GAIN, here are three places from which to start. None are easy, but all generate hope for both the Philippines and the global community:

  • Shore up the political stability of local, regional and national government.
  • Increase the percentage of paved roads to trigger more expeditious travel on islands within the archipelago during the monsoon season.
  • Improve sanitation facilities and access to water to strengthen the population and decrease disease while freeing up community energy for commerce.

The Philippines is nababanat, or elastic, as well as resilient, and Filipinos face many more typhoons ahead.  Working together, we can save lives and improve livelihoods there and in other vulnerable regions.  As an adaptation professional deeply immersed in questions of how, I employ ND-GAIN to guide the way.