Last week I traveled to Legazpi City, Philippines to learn more about how the city has successfully integrated climate change into disaster risk management plans, and the challenges they faces as a result of climate change. I was struck by how the effects of climate change permeated into so many areas of public policy. This is a testament not only to their ability to mainstream climate change; but also the imminent need for adaptive measures.
Like many developing countries, informal settlements are a reality in Legazpi City. The city has done an incredible job creating community based risk maps that identify vulnerable residences and flood prone areas. Unfortunately these maps indicate that some of the most vulnerable communities are those that have set up informally along the rivers and coastline. Public health risks aside, these communities have the potential to be completely washed away as a result of any number climate related disasters including typhoons, flooding, storm surge resulting from tsunamis, and mudslides; all of which are on top of the risk for earthquakes and volcanic eruption. Packed tightly together, these communities are also extremely difficult to evacuate in the event of an emergency.
Knowing this the outsider’s obvious answer would be to pick up and move elsewhere. Yet as any local government official in a developing country will tell you, it’s not so simple. Many of these people have lived in these areas for generations; it’s what they know and where their livelihoods stem from. In Legazpi resettlement programs have been ongoing since Typhoon Reming in 2006 which killed 289 people and damaged or destroyed 20,000 homes. Still many residents refuse to move or have rebuilt in some of the most vulnerable areas.
Resettlement is an extremely controversial issue and requires a great deal of resources that go far beyond construction of basic housing. Everything from social networks, politics, education, recreation, community cohesion and economic opportunities must all be considered. I would never assume to have all the answers, but would like to ask the question; how do we support and motivate our most vulnerable communities to leave what they know because of climate change?