Imagination instrumental to disaster management planning–JICA
TOKYO — Experience from both Japan and Philippines disasters in 2011 and 2013 has shown the importance of imagination in crafting a disaster management plan, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
In vulnerable coastal communities under threat from tsunamis or storm surges, disaster managers need to do simulations or “scenario-building,” distribute hazard maps, prepare an evacuation plan, conduct emergency drills, build bridges or dikes, and best of all, share their experiences with others.
These are some of the lessons JICA has learned from its reconstruction work in the Philippines in the aftermath of 2013’s “Yolanda” devastation in the Philippines’ Eastern Visayas region, as well as northeastern Japan’s own March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
In a recent interview, Jin Wakabayashi, director of JICA’s Southeast Asia and Pacific department, spoke of the need and urgency of formulating a disaster risk management plan for communities facing threats.
One of the key measures, he said, is to distribute hazard maps in local government units and to formulate an evacuation plan based on these.
“During the course of our support, we supported introducing or upgrading hazard maps in LGUs (local government units), or communities, but we foresee that there needs to be continuous revision… for such kind of hazard maps to be utilized effectively,” Wakabayashi said.
Hazard maps should have detailed information on the geographic features of the land or other “various anticipated effects” depending on the level or magnitude of an approaching disaster, he said.
“[On a] side note: I live in a suburb of Tokyo. My city distributes hazard maps, very detailed ones, to each household, so that’s an image we have,” Wakabayashi said.
Another lesson is the importance of making simulations even before a huge disaster strikes, he added.
Wakabayashi said such simulations or scenario-building activities in the form of emergency drills in the barangays or communities were helpful in identifying disaster risks.
“We also learned the importance of balancing out the quality and consistency of such management plans in LGUs,” he said, noting the disparity in the capacities of each municipality.
Asked if JICA had difficulty dealing with Philippine LGUs, Wakabayashi said part of the challenge came from the fact that they had to “start from scratch.”
“At the outset, they had no such kind of [disaster management] plans, so they needed to be briefed on what are the concepts and aims of the plans,” he said.
Reflecting on the Philippine government’s efforts in Yolanda-affected areas, Wakabayashi said JICA found the response to be generally “quick and effective.”
“We observed that not only as an initiative of the central government, but also with the participation of LGUs and private citizens, all these stakeholders have worked hard on recovery and reconstruction efforts,” he said.
As for JICA’s own initiatives, its role, after a post-needs assessment, was mainly to support ongoing activities, including an immediate development study facility that began in January 2014 through March this year, he said.
Another is Japan’s push for the “build-back-better” scheme, which is a strong feature of the Philippine government’s comprehensive recovery plan in Leyte and Samar provinces, and which it is advocating to be incorporated in the land use plans for the reconstruction effort.
Simply put, build-back-better means the houses to be constructed must be safer than they were before the disaster.
JICA has also collaborated with Higashimatsushima City in Miyagi prefecture, one of the hardest hit places during the March 11, 2011 great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, to help in the Philippine effort.
“Not only the city officers and personnel visited the Philippines, particularly Leyte, three times. Also the officials from Philippine side were invited to the [Japan] areas affected by the earthquake,” Wakabayashi said.
“So they (Philippine officials) learned how the city rebuilt and tried to reconstruct themselves — of course with national government support — also how city itself has tried to create its own programs,” he added.
Wakabayashi also cited the importance of structural measures, such as building dikes and bridges.
One particular plan JICA is involved in is the 27.3-kilometer and four-meter tide embankment project along the coastline of Leyte from Palo to Tanauan. JICA helped conceptualize the government-led project.
He said disaster managers should study how such structures could be used in multiple ways. CDG