To say that the Philippines is highly vulnerable to natural disasters barely scratches the surface. Not only are many parts of the country highly prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, but the Philippines’ geographic position also renders most of the country vulnerable to typhoons and related phenomena like floods and storm surges. As if that were not enough, the climate crisis has also raised sea levels and made local climatic patterns unpredictable, with serious droughts and torrential rains now increasingly becoming commonplace.
The Philippine countryside is especially vulnerable, in large part thanks to chronic underinvestment in years past. This is especially concerning as a lack of disaster resilience in the countryside has the potential to impact both national food security and social stability. In addition, even relatively minor natural disasters with few direct casualties create a serious economic impact that impedes the country’s growth.
Fortunately, we can draw from lessons learned from previous disasters to help inform disaster preparedness and resilience policies. In this article, we will explore several measures that may reduce the vulnerability of the Philippine countryside to natural disasters.
1) Strengthen Municipal Water Infrastructure
In a country where most disasters are often summed up as having too much water or not enough of it, enhancing the quality water infrastructure is crucial. In the Philippine countryside, municipal water supplies are often antiquated and vulnerable to damage and contamination. In recent calamities, damage to water infrastructure also resulted in additional deaths as survivors were forced to consume water from unsafe sources.
Updating municipal water services in the countryside should not only reduce preventable deaths in the wake of disasters, but it will also result in palpable improvements in quality of life for many Filipinos. With more calamities still to come, policymakers and stakeholders in the Philippine countryside need to work together to further improve and add to existing municipal water systems.
2) Improve Irrigation
Better irrigation infrastructure is especially important as the agricultural sector consumes the vast majority of the Philippines’ freshwater supplies, mostly for rice cultivation. Notably, a large proportion of irrigation infrastructure is open, resulting in high losses from evaporation as well as serious blockage and contamination risks. Additionally, with droughts becoming more common, open irrigation is becoming less useful to farmers.
Updating these to modern piped irrigation systems will not only reduce water wastage in transit but should also reduce the strain on the country’s increasingly overtapped freshwater supplies. Newer systems should also be more suitable in the face of more frequent droughts and less prone to damage and contamination in case of serious calamities.
3) Implement Watershed Management
Proper watershed management plays a vital role in reducing the impact of natural disasters. In the Philippines, rampant deforestation has significantly reduced the water absorption properties of watersheds. This has led to flash floods and mudslides becoming more commonplace during the wet season. While urban centers are also affected, it’s the overwhelmingly rural communities around watersheds that bear the brunt of these disasters.
By preserving and restoring forests, implementing soil conservation practices, and promoting sustainable land use, the capacity of watersheds to retain water and mitigate floods is enhanced. Additionally, protecting and rehabilitating watersheds contributes to the overall health of ecosystems, preventing future environmental catastrophes from happening or from causing serious losses of life and property.
4) Promote Rainwater Harvesting and Storage
Encouraging rainwater harvesting and storage systems in rural communities can help mitigate the effects of droughts and water scarcity. By capturing and storing rainwater during the wet season, rural communities can access a supplementary water source during dry periods, reducing their vulnerability to water-related disasters.
Implementing simple and affordable rainwater harvesting techniques, such as rooftop catchment systems and storage tanks, can have significant benefits for rural areas. Wider implementation of Republic Act 6716, also known as the Rainwater Collector and Springs Development Act of 1989, should help improve drought resilience in rural barangays.
5) Enhance Flood Management
In the Philippines, most major lowland farming communities are located close to rivers or on natural floodplains, making them susceptible to flooding. With floods becoming more severe and unpredictable, flood-related displacements, infrastructure damage, and loss of life have all become common risks during the wet season.
Implementing effective flood management strategies, such as constructing modern flood control systems, improving drainage systems, reforestation, and promoting riverbank stabilization should be prioritized. These measures help reduce the impact of floods and safeguard communities and their assets from increasingly destructive flooding events.
6) Enhance Community Preparedness
While national and local policymakers bear the brunt of the responsibility for disaster response and mitigation, community preparedness is vital in reducing the effects of natural calamities. Conducting regular disaster preparedness and risk reduction training programs, organizing drills, and establishing community-based response teams empowers communities to respond effectively during emergencies, particularly in the initial phases of disasters where outside help may not be available.
7) Integrate Climate Change Adaptation
Integrating climate change adaptation measures into countryside development planning helps communities anticipate and adapt to changing climatic conditions. This can include incorporating climate-resilient agricultural practices, implementing climate-smart infrastructure, adopting water management measures, and raising awareness about sustainable practices that promote long-term resilience.
In some areas, climate-conscious development approaches are already being undertaken. Countryside economic estates, in particular, are leading the way forward. For instance, apart from commonplace energy-saving technologies, Aboitiz InfraCapital’s LIMA Estate in Batangas, through the Lima Water Corporation, has pioneered a novel wastewater treatment system that may serve as a blueprint for future solutions that will aim to solve water scarcity issues in the Philippines. The technologies tested in these estates may allow future generations of Filipinos to thrive in what may be a very different world.
Reducing the vulnerability of the Philippine countryside to natural disasters requires a comprehensive and proactive approach. Prioritizing infrastructure investments and fostering collaboration among government agencies, NGOs, and stakeholders will be key to building a resilient Philippine countryside. In doing so, we can protect lives, preserve livelihoods, and ensure a sustainable future, not just for rural communities but for all Filipinos as well.