Experts urge more gov't funding for evacuation centers to prevent casualties, COVID-19 spread

Experts urge more gov't funding for evacuation centers to prevent casualties, COVID-19 spread

MANILA, Philippines — Disaster risk reduction experts on Wednesday called on Congress to allocate funding for safe and resilient evacuation centers to better prevent casualties and reduce the spread of coronavirus. 

In line with this, experts from the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute and advocacy group Agap Banta urged that the establishment of a National Evacuation Center Investment Program (NECIP) be prioritized in the 2021 budget. 

This comes on the heels of typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses which lashed the Philippines for three weeks in a row. Experts said these calamities displaced over half a million families across eight regions.  

Before this onslaught, Agap Banta had already warned that the overlapping of another disaster with the pandemic response and recovery would be “overwhelming" for the country.

Meanwhile, 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,” Dr. Kristoffer Berse, director for Research and Creative Work, was quoted as saying in a separate statement also released by Agap Banta. 

As shelters filled up last week due to severe flooding, senators cautioned against the 'superspreading' of coronavirus in evacuation centers, urging the implementation of physical distancing and the distribution of masks and alcohol. 

In a statement released by the group on Wednesday, disaster risk reduction 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." 

Of the 270 Philippine municipalities in Vulnerable Provinces — identified by the Cabinet Cluster on Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation, and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCAM-DRR) —  Agap Banta said 182, or 67%, do not have a permanent evacuation center. To make matters worse, 96 of these LGUs are in the 4th to 6th income class. 

Agap Banta also cited reports that barangay halls alternatively used as evacuation centers were flooded or damaged during the typhoon onslaught. 

On Tuesday, Isabela Gov. Rodito Albano III told state-run PTV that many of the province's evacuation centers were submerged by Ulysses-induced floods. As a result, Albano added, the provincial government had no money left to test those in shelters for COVID-19, as all its resources would have to be redirected to upgrading rescue facilities and evacuation centers. 

To prevent such dire circumstances from occurring again, the group suggested that the NECIP be given funds worth at least P1 billion every year for the next three years. 

This allotment, Agap Banta estimates, could fund the establishment of around 120 permanent evacuation centers in "highly vulnerable LGUs," — which could house 13,500 families or 67,500 displaced individuals — as well as the retrofitting of other structures used as shelters. 

It also listed the following points to further advocate for the investment: 

  • The benefit of pre-emptive evacuation has reduced casualties
  •  While a "huge initial investment," evacuation centers can also double serve as temporary shelters and venues for disaster preparedness activities
  • Decrease of vulnerabilities or better implementation of physical distancing and minimum health standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19
  •  Less use of schools as evacuation centers as provided for in the Children's Emergency Relief and Protection Act

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." 

The experts from Agap Banta and UPRI suggested that funding for NECIP be sourced from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF), the Local Government Support Fund, and the Department of Public Works and Highways Local Infrastructure Program.

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from Gaea Katreena Cabico