Canada helps Benguet schools prevent natural hazards from becoming disasters

photo caption: Teachers and school administrators participate in disaster risk reduction training with funding from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives in Benguet, Philippines

In the Philippines, weather disturbances are more than just natural hazards. Issues of climate change, waste segregation, flood control, and calamity response worry government officials and development partners.

After all, the Philippines is considered to be the third most disaster prone country in the world. Made up of over 7,000 islands, this archipelago straddles the Pacific's "Ring of Fire" and is home to several active volcanoes and geological fault lines. Compounding those less predictable but constant threats is that the archipelago is battered by an average of 20 storms and typhoons annually, resulting in significant and perennial flooding.

In an effort to ensure one community is better prepared, the Embassy of Canada supports students in Benguet, a province in the Cordillera region in the country's north, to learn the principles of disaster preparedness.

Thanks to the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), teachers and school administrators in Benguet train elementary and high school students in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and management techniques.

Through the CFLI grant, the non-governmental organization, People's Initiative for Learning and Community Development (PILCD) is improving the capacity of the province's education sector to prevent hazards from becoming disasters. Equipping teachers and students with knowledge and skills to respond to natural disasters can minimize property damage and loss of lives.

For example, parents or students would sometimes not be mindful of the weather bureau's warnings to suspend classes. This could unnecessarily strand students in floods, or worse, in school buildings. Through the disaster preparedness, students and their parents are beginning to better appreciate the local weather bureau's storm warnings and take informed action to stay safe.

With an eye to the future, schools also integrate lessons on climate change, waste segregation and pollution and their consequent effects. The project teaches the values of environmental protection and a keen sense to proactive planning for disasters to avoid the unnecessary loss of lives and properties when these calamities strike.

"The education sector has a key role to prevent hazards from becoming disasters. DRR in education equips people with knowledge and skills, so that hazards cause the least possible loss of human life and inflict as little damage and destruction as possible," Marivic Patawaran, PILCD program coordinator, said at a recently concluded education forum.

photo caption: "Prepare the community against calamity" in comic book form appeals to young students

In its 2005 study, Mapping Philippine Vulnerability to Environmental Disasters, the Manila Observatory rated Benguet as one of the five provinces with a “very high” risk to geophysical hazards, particularly earthquakes and landslides.

Typhoons also unusually battered the province in the past decade. "Typhoons 'Feria' in 2001 and 'Pepeng' in 2009 saw unprecedented flooding here," Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan said.

"That is why disaster management should not be a choice but should be a way of life," he said.

The education sector is among the most affected by natural calamities. Citing data from the Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd), PILCD said that in 2006, typhoons damaged 5,600 school buildings in Southern Luzon alone costing up to more than P3 billion and affecting more than eight million children.

Schools also turn into evacuation centers during typhoons and flooding as part of DepEd's mandate to offer schools to host displaced families in times of calamities.

"One of our tasks is to make our school buildings available as temporary evacuation centers," Nancy Lumbas, DepEd (Benguet) division superintendent said.

Allowing the use of school buildings as temporary shelters is a specific response of the DepEd in implementing the Philippines law on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management.