Press Release
March 15, 2010

Engineering Resilience: Confronting Risks Beyond Adaptation
Visayas Ballroom, Sofitel Philippine Plaza

Esteemed guests and colleagues, we are gathered here today to answer a call that weighs heavily on the future of humanity. Climate change is undeniably in our midst, increasing the risks of disaster in vulnerable cities and communities.

In different parts of the world, like in the Philippines and the Asia Pacific region, climate change has already ushered unprecedented disasters, among the more recent was the flooding in our country's capital last September, whose impact on people's lives shall linger for many years. Yet, climate science conveys that this extreme weather event is certainly bound to recur, perhaps with even worse outcomes.

Beyond our respective countries, the world must act more swiftly, more wisely, and more decisively to seize and reduce disaster risks more effectively. That is why I am pleased to see representatives from all over the world present here, as part of the global community, willing to share their knowledge gained from experience to make the Philippines better prepared to handle the volatile whims of Mother Nature. The ensuing discussions on the threats of climate change to our basic human rights - food, potable water, shelter, decent livelihood and life itself, have occupied us for some time now. In response to these impacts, vulnerable countries like the Philippines should ramp up efforts to enhance the resilience of our people. However, the government can only do so much. We must learn to adapt a new paradigm, one that harnesses the benefits of Public-Private Partnerships, or PPP's, that can utilize the resources of government and the private sector in a united, focused effort. Proof of the effectiveness of this partnership is this conference, with the Congressional Commission on Science Technology and Engineering working hand in hand with the Manila Observatory. This sort of collaboration breaks down old barriers and forges new paths that will benefit the Philippines and hopefully, the entire world.

A joint study by Columbia University and the World Bank entitled 'Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis', which identifies countries which are at high risk for six major natural hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, floods, drought, and cyclones, has the Philippines pegged as one of riskiest countries in the world

As a nation at risk, we need therefore to rethink our approach to pursuing and protecting our development from the impacts of disasters and climate change.

What drive disaster risks in the context of climate change? The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction has recently found them with strong empirical evidence: poor urban governance, vulnerable rural livelihoods, and ecosystems decline.

The Report urges us to address these drivers of vulnerability lest climate change increases disaster risks, worsens poverty in developing countries, and makes our Millennium Development Goals even more elusive.

Firstly, we must therefore strengthen governance in the urban centers. This means putting a stop to corruption. This means enforcing strictly building codes and zoning policies. This means not placing people, homes, and industries in high risk areas. Development must be pursued with responsibility, accountability, and proficiency for good governance. Development should reduce rather than produce risks to our society and our economy. Development should promote resilient investments.

Secondly, we must protect our ecosystems for it was found that 60% of all ecosystem services - the services nature provides to sustain human life on earth - are declining, with some services like fisheries beyond repair. And in addition, we are also creating trade-offs between these ecosystem services: for when we convert mangrove plantations to shrimp ponds, we actually increase storm surge risk; for when we cut down forests for agriculture use, we actually increase landslide risk; for when we drain wetlands, we actually increase flood risk.

And thirdly, we must enhance rural livelihoods which 75% of the poor depend on to subsist. This means improving agricultural productivity and supporting our farmers better. This also means addressing the issues akin to rural poverty - such as inequity in land distribution, lack of access to better seeds and irrigation technology, the lack of economic diversification, weak markets and trade barriers, and the lack of capacity to absorb and to recover from disaster losses. In October of 2009 the Philippine Climate Change Act, which I principally authored and sponsored, was passed. The purpose of the Climate Change Act is to build resilience to the impacts of climate change. This can be achieved through the mainstreaming of climate change in various phases of policy formulation, development plans, poverty reduction strategies and other development tools and techniques by all agencies and instrumentalities of the government.

The Climate Change Act, the first in Asia, sums up the country's great resolve to take the issue of climate change very seriously. It goes to show that we value above everything else the welfare of our people through the protection of the world where we all live. It is what I believe can be the turning point where we can empower our local government units to have the education, training and resources to act swiftly and decisively to save lives.

But legislation can only go so far. It is by harnessing the efforts of collaboration, and effecting change with a strong foundation built on our own experiences and that of other nations, and backed scientific data that we can we can make our country better prepared to face the worst natural disasters and minimize damage and the loss of life.

Climate change is indeed the greatest humanitarian challenge of our time. Let this gathering today be our starting point for more meaningful and successful action at national and international levels.

Thank you.

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