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Evacuation center shortage

After typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses wreaked havoc upon the Philippines for three weeks in a row, displacing over half a million families across eight regions, disaster risk reduction experts have called on Congress to allocate funding for safe and resilient evacuation centers to better prevent casualties and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Experts from the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute and advocacy group, Agap Banta, urged the establishment of a National Evacuation Center Investment Program to be prioritized in the 2021 budget.

Agap Banta had already been warning that the overlapping of another disaster with the pandemic response and recovery would be “overwhelming” for the country. Dr. Kristoffer Berse, director for Research and Creative Work said the UPRI, has long been “advocating for a review of the location of evacuation centers nationwide to take into account the impacts of climate change and the cascading effects of multiple hazards, including epidemics”.

The experts said the NECIP should “target highly vulnerable local government units affected by typhoons” and include “audit, standards, validation, construction and/or upgrading of evacuation centers given our intersecting disasters with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

It was pointed out that, of the 270 municipalities in vulnerable provinces, 182 or 67 percent do not have a permanent evacuation center. To make matters worse, 96 of these LGUs are in the 4th to 6th income class.

To prevent the circumstances that prevailed in the successive weeks of strong typhoons, where barangay halls used for evacuation centers were damaged or flooded, and no funds were available to test those in shelters for Covid-19, the group suggested that the NECIP be given funds worth at least P1 billion every year for the next three years that could fund the establishment of around 120 permanent evacuation centers in highly-vulnerable LGUs.

Citing estimates made by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Agap Banta said, “Every dollar invested in risk reduction and prevention can save up to $15 in post-disaster recovery and every dollar invested in making infrastructures disaster-resilient saves $4 in reconstruction”.

For a country that is among the most vulnerable to natural disasters in the planet, the Philippines is one that has not spent nearly enough on disaster risk reduction and evacuation centers. The government response to the recent typhoons during this pandemic has demonstrated how an inability to properly respond to such disasters has resulted in magnifying the risk and more harm to the most vulnerable communities.

How many more natural disasters do Filipinos have to endure in makeshift conditions before our government officials can invest in preparing our vulnerable areas for the inevitable?*

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