One of the most powerful tropical cyclones on record hit the Philippines nine years ago. Six-meter storm surges tossed boats inland, collapsed buildings and washed debris out to sea. Typhoon Haiyan devastated large parts of the country and claimed thousands of lives.
The catastrophic typhoon has indelibly highlighted the importance of disaster response and recovery among the country’s authorities. Today, the Philippines has strengthened its resilience by creating a centralized database to predict natural hazards.
Located in the Pacific typhoon belt, the Philippines experiences many forms of natural disasters. In addition to typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides are commonplace, causing widespread suffering and millions of dollars in damage.
In response to these threats, the United Nations Development Program in the Philippines and the Australian government have launched a natural disaster mitigation initiative called Shield – the program to strengthen institutions and empower communities against disasters and climate change.
Shield’s goal is to facilitate work with local governments on building resilience to natural hazards and climate change.
One of the projects supported by Shield is GeohazardPHa centralized database that helps government agencies and the public anticipate and prepare for natural disasters.
“The information warehouse is key to ensuring seamless sharing of data between agencies to optimize disaster planning,” says Rodolfo Calzado Jr, UNDP Manila-based Country Coordinator.
This database supports a number of functions. A feature lets users know if a location is prone to natural hazards, allowing them to zoom in to observe roads, bridges, houses and other infrastructure that might be vulnerable. It also produces hazard assessment reports in just 15 seconds, far faster than the one to three days it takes government agencies to generate them manually.
Another function of the database generates maps, charts and graphs to help members of the public understand the magnitude of impending disasters and take necessary precautions against them, showing exactly which areas of land, population groups and health facilities are likely to be affected.
Government money monitoring
In addition to working to mitigate natural disasters, UNDP is also committed to advancing social development in the Philippines. He created an application called Development through Local Indicators and Vulnerability Exposure Database (DevLIVE+) to monitor natural hazards and social service delivery.
DevLIVE+ helps authorities make decisions by studying a number of datasets, including geographic coordinates associated with media. Such data may reveal that many people in a certain region may research the types of financial assistance available to single mothers, for example, indicating that the government should divert more of these types of resources to the region.
Similarly, if a large number of complaints are filed about a particular policy, DevLIVE+ prompts authorities to implement changes.
Not only can authorities use DevLIVE+ to assess the effectiveness of community programs, they can also use its data to improve budgeting. “They can allocate more funds to areas that need more interventions,” says Calzado.
The municipal government of Piagapo, in the southern region of Mindanao, used the DevLIVE+ database to target beneficiaries of an effort to distribute social assistance and relief goods.
In the northern city of Vigan, DevLIVE+ data has been essential in helping the government plan and manage its early childhood care and development programme. The results revealed that many children were lagging behind in reading skills for their age group, so the city implemented an after-school reading program to improve comprehension skills. Initially, 30% of children were considered to have insufficient reading skills, but by the end of the initiative this had dropped to 10%.
The city has also developed the Vigan Access Card, which allows citizens to access public facilities. By keeping track of how often facilities are used via DevLIVE+, government officials have been able to refine urban planning. For example, if the public library was constantly crowded, the authorities could introduce measures to regulate traffic or build more libraries in the city.
UNDP will continue to support disaster risk management efforts in the Philippines and refine its social development programs. Although Typhoon Haiyan may have left the country on its back in 2013, data is helping to prepare Filipino communities on all fronts today.