The Elderly on Building Disaster Resilient Communities in the Philippines

Extreme weather conditions will become the norm in the Philippines, with long droughts and massive floods punctuated by intense typhoons, experts report. The monsoon alone that the country experienced early August  displaced  more than 260,000 people and caused damages to property amounting to an estimated Php 340 million. Communities now face the challenge of adapting to manage and reduce the adverse effects associated with these weather disturbances.

Vulnerable groups are most affected by calamities. These groups include women, children, persons with disability, and the elderly. Given that the Philippines is visited by an average of 20 typhoons annually, and is largely archipelagic, making emergency response a daunting task in far flung areas, each sector must contribute to building resilient communities locally.

In the aftermath of the heavy rains caused by the August monsoon, ACCESS Health International-Philippines organized the webinar, “The Elderly in Disasters” to  begin a conversation on how to care for the well being of vulnerable groups who are displaced in calamities. The invited resource person to speak for the elderly was Mr. Francis Kupang, Executive Director of the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE).

Mr. Kupang gave inputs on Older People’s (OPs) Needs in Emergencies, specifically (1) the situation of OPs during disasters, (2) their needs and the problems they encounter in crisis situations, and (3) how organized OP groups participate in emergency relief services-emphasizing the role of empowered OP groups in building resilient communities.

The salient points shared by Mr. Kupang is that OPs are vulnerable during disasters because of their fragile physical condition and because the setting in evacuation centers are usually not OP-friendly. It is also in the nature of OPs to sacrifice their well being to give way to addressing the needs of the young-usually, their grandchildren or neighbors. Health also becomes a great concern for the elderly during disasters because provisions for their medicines (e.g., for diabetes, or hypertension) are usually taken for granted because priority is given to food and other basic needs.

The awareness of these vulnerabilities have inspired organized local OP Organizations (OPOs) to provide a range of services for their fellow OPs. Some have initiated programs related to livelihood, post-calamity psycho-social interventions, alternative energies, shelter repair, and workshops on Disaster Risk Response (DRR) and building community-based mechanisms in responding to future disasters. Through these efforts, Mr. Kupang noted that OPOs are actively engaged by different emergency service providers including national and local government units (LGUs), and civil society organizations (CSOs)and religious groups who organize calamity relief efforts.

As they continue to participate in building resilient communities, OPOs have formulated recommendations on how to address the unique needs of OPs in emergency situations. Mr. Kupang enumerates the following inputs from OPOs:

  • Conduct a Damage Need Assessment (DNA) in partnership with the OPOs in the community;
  • Establish coordination or working relations with OPOs in emergency response;
  • For national government agencies and LGUs to designate a point person to coordinate all emergency services with OPOs;
  • Prioritize  basic needs for food and health  of OPs during emergencies;
  • For Government agency and LGU emergency service volunteers to have proper orientation and knowledge of how to address OP needs during emergencies;
  • LGUs should develop a comprehensive Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Plan that integrates OP-sensitive policies and measures in emergencies;
  • Enchance OPO participation in DRRM planning and implementation;
  • Establish baseline information of the capacities, vulnerabilities and needs of OPs at all levels of political units (towns, cities, municipalities, etc.);
  • Enchance and / or strengthen the participation of OPs and OPOs in the identification of their problems and needs, and the planning and implementationof community development programmes, including DRRM programs;
  • Integrate OP agenda in all levels of government planning and program development structures and processes;
  • Building partnership with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and CSOs in facilitating the formation and / or strengthening of community-based OPO partners in participatory development practice.

Sources:

Abano. Imelda. “Experts: Extreme Weather Becoming the Norm.” Business Mirror Online 30 August 2012 <http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/top-news/32096-experts-extreme-weather-becoming-the-norm>.

Tapang, Giovanni. “Pagasa and Hope.” Manila Times.net 16 August 2012 <http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/opinion/columnist1/29030-pagasa-and-hope>.

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About Michelle Avelino

is Director for the Center for Health Governance of ACCESS Health International-Philippines where she works to facilitate closing access gaps in the fragmented Philippine health system by enabling scalable local action for positive health outcomes.

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