UN exec to RP: Build, plan for disasters

Standing water in Pasig worries UN official

By Veronica Uy
First Posted 12:54:00 10/13/2009

MANILA, Philippines – Countries vulnerable to the harsh effects of climate change like the Philippines need to build and plan for disasters as the weather events become “more extreme” and “more intense,” United Nations Undersecretary General John Holmes said Tuesday.

But in Pasig City, which he visited Monday, Holmes said he was most struck by the standing water that was expected to remain there in the next two months or more. He expressed concern for the people who have stayed on in their houses trying to go on with their lives, wading in these waters and being exposed to various diseases.

The government, he said, “should look for ways to get rid of the standing water.”

At a press conference Tuesday, Holmes said “chronic vulnerability [in many parts of the world] has not gone away,” and the consequences of climate change in the coming years were expected to worsen that vulnerability. And with the global economic meltdown, international humanitarian aid may not be as generous in the coming years.

That’s why, he said, countries vulnerable to climate change effects needed to adopt measures, allocate funding, and initiate technology transfers to reduce the risks of disasters that were the sure effects of climate change.

“We cannot stop disasters, but we can reduce the impact if we take measures in advance like not build on flood-prone areas, implement the right kind of water management, build houses and schools that can withstand floods and earthquakes,” he said.

“Governments can make good investments. These do not cost much compared to responses after disasters that are more expensive,” he added.

Holmes said that $12 billion were spent globally every year in response to disasters, and he expected the amount to increase because of global warming.

The UN official, who is in the country to see for himself the effects of the storm “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) and typhoon “Pepeng” (international name: Parma), said the UN was likely to revise its flash appeal to the international community for the Philippines in the next two to three weeks after finishing the assessment of the destruction in northern Luzon caused by Pepeng.

At the same time, Holmes also said he was impressed by the Philippine government’s response to the twin disasters, particularly its “speed” and “effectiveness.”

He said the UN system adopted precautions against possible corruption in the distribution of relief goods and aid, including working with UN agencies and other non-government organizations in the country.

“The help goes straight to the people. They either survive or not. The effects are very visible. The risk of diversion or corruption is lower in relief operations than in other kinds of aid. It’s not usually a major problem. The concern is always there but the effects of the relief are immediately seen,” he said.

Of the $74 million targeted for Ondoy operations, the UN has received $19 million worth of commitments from the international community. Outside the UN flash appeal, $25 million more were given directly either to the government or non-government organizations.

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