By Stewart Paul Tolosa Torre, PACSII
The Philippines is particularly at risk to different types of disasters. This is due to (a) its archipelagic feature and location along the typhoon belt of North Pacific basin, and (b) its position within the Pacific belt of fire. The country is frequently devastated by typhoons, storm surges, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and drought, which cause billion worth of damages of property and lives of people. Susceptibility to disaster events and their impacts are also exacerbated by climate change and unsustainable human practices thus, creating an ecological imbalance.
In the context of the Philippines, vulnerability to disasters is often linked with poverty issues. Those who usually reside in relatively high risk areas, such as along railways, under the bridge, riverbanks, foreshore and dumpsite areas, are low-income groups who cannot afford to live in houses that are both affordable and decent. In addition, these groups also belong to the informal sector which lacks security in land tenure and access to physical infrastructures and basic services.
In the past decade, the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines Inc. (HPFPI), a national network of urban poor communities originating from small saving groups throughout the country, has integrated disaster response measures into its key rituals. Consequently enumeration has become an important tool.
The Federation’s commitment to work with the most vulnerable communities began after the Payatas trashslide in year 2000. It was a tragic event that killed and displaced hundreds of people after a mountain of solid waste dump in Quezon City collapsed due to heavy downpour. The initial responses of the government and concerned civic organizations was to gather data on the actual number of casualties and relief operations. However, the accuracy of reported casualties and damage assessment were contested and questioned. For these did not actually reveal the exact number of disaster-affected families and the incurred losses on properties.
The apparent data gap on the number and status of communities in high-risk sites like Payatas, inspired the federation to start its enumeration initiatives. From 2000 onwards, HPFPI has been conducting surveys both in national and city levels to update the figures of informal settlers in disaster-prone areas and those faced with eviction threats. Enumeration data have been very useful to the Federation in terms of data banking and as a prerequisite for slum upgrading and rehabilitation projects. These data likewise aid the government in identifying their potential project beneficiaries and serve as reference for their post-disaster interventions. One concrete example of how government benefitted from the federation’s enumeration initiative was when they used the data in prioritizing typhoon-affected families for transitory and permanent housing projects in one of the government resettlement sites in Iloilo City.
HPFPI’s most recent survey started in April 2010 and targets high-risk settlements. This comprehensive community-based data collection primarily aims to come-up with an updated and realistic data about the socio-economic, structural, tenurial and sanitary conditions of disaster-prone communities in the Philippines. Having a clearer picture of the present conditions of these communities through enumeration and accurate reporting is very crucial if we want to deliver appropriate disaster mitigation and post disaster intervention projects. More importantly, risk factors and existing resources in communities are easily mapped-out that could serve as bases in formulating a strategic and holistic disaster preparedness plan which is also vital in developing disaster resilient communities.