Benguet is not a stranger to natural disasters – from earthquakes to typhoons – which have resulted in the loss of lives in the province. Benguet’s experiences from these disasters cemented the belief that it is not enough to just be equipped when responding. Preparedness is equally important.
Meet some of the drivers of disaster resilience in the Province of Benguet. With the help of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Disaster Preparedness and Response and Climate Change Adaptation (DPR/CCA) Projects, they are moulding Benguet into a province that is equipped to prepare for and respond to disasters.
The Government Champion
Typhoons are a regular occurrence in the town of Tublay. Mayor Ben Paoad has been the head of the municipality for the past eight years and has sat through the worst disasters the town has ever seen. By virtue of being situated on a mountainous area, landslides are the most common result of weather disturbances in Tublay – putting in jeopardy not only the people, but also the town’s sources of livelihood.
The year 2009 was a year of change in the municipality. In the wake of the disasters brought by Typhoons Ketsana (Ondoy) and Parma (Pepeng), WFP’s initial response was to assist in the rehabilitation of the town, but it didn’t stop there. Since then, Tublay has been part of WFP's DPR/CCA projects such as Automated Weather Stations that provide the municipality with vital information regarding incoming weather disturbances; and slope stabilization that ensures the community’s safety and protects their farms. Capacity building initiatives also empower the community by making sure that they are ready to respond if a disaster strikes.
“WFP has been a big help in empowering our community,” said Mayor Paoad. “The next step is with us, and how we can improve upon this assistance further and how we can better prepare and involve our community as much as possible. That is what I wish to do in my last term as the Mayor of this municipality.”
In 2009, Typhoon Pepeng devastated most of the sources of livelihood in Benguet province. Fely Damilo, then a daycare centre teacher, saw it all happen. Now, five years later, Fely, who still teaches, got herself and her family involved in the slope stabilization and livelihood activities of WFP’s DPR/CCA programmes.
Benguet takes pride in producing export-quality Arabica coffee. However, producing coffee didn’t come without a challenge. According to Fely, only a few understand the significance of coffee to their livelihood and the importance of protecting the soil from landslides if intercropped with vetiver grass. “If we really want change, it should start in our way of thinking. We have to convince the people to think not only of the now, but for the long term. Because we’ll never know when a disaster will happen and when it does, we shouldn’t be uprooted anymore.”
The people of Benguet were used to a more traditional type of farming where the income is immediate. “But the problem is, traditional livelihood is no longer sustainable,” Fely said. “We need something that will stay with us in the long term. And the answer is here. It’s coffee.”
WFP provided the community with trainings and resources to utilize this growing livelihood. Fely and her family are helping make that transition and inspiring their community to also embrace coffee farming. “There is more to be done. But we are inspired. It will happen,” Fely smiled.
When Dr. Alejandro Ciencia Jr. agreed for the WFP-supported Knowledge Training and Resource Center (KTRC) to be part of the Cordillera Studies Center in the University of the Philippines Baguio (UPB), he was not expecting to also be at its helm. But it was a pleasant surprise and now Doc Aly – as he is popularly called – is working hard to make sure people realize the importance of KTRC.
“I’ve always been a teacher. And I believe that teaching opens doors to educate and empower, especially making people aware that disasters could happen anytime, anywhere. They have to know what we can do about it,” Doc Aly explained.
The academe has been a vital partner in disaster preparedness and response initiatives. The KTRC aims to be a repository of knowledge where people could learn more about disasters, its impacts and how to mitigate and prepare for them. The Center also aims to reach out to the academe to develop studies that would be beneficial to disaster response.
“Of course there is much to be done, and we’re very excited. We’re looking forward to conferences, to more trainings, where we can add more knowledge into KTRC,” Doc Aly said. “And hopefully there will be more universities and fellows in the academe who will contribute to this venture. That will be very helpful.”
“Whenever I hear my parents' stories about what takes place during typhoons, during volcanic eruptions, I am very scared. I don’t want anything like that to ever happen again.”
Rieyen Clemente is a 17-year-old Social Sciences student of UPB, majoring in History and minoring in Philosophy, who considers himself a big fan of KTRC. Owing to his mom’s experiences during the Mount Pinatubo eruption, he resolved that he will do his part to change the disaster preparedness landscape of the country.
Rieyen got involved with KTRC after seeing KTRC posters around the campus, and he was immediately inspired. He volunteered to be a Student Assistant in the center where he spends his time assisting people in their research, and doing readings of his own.
“My mom always says that the environment is like time. You cannot take it back after it has gone.” Rieyen said. “KTRC is a venue where people can learn more about the disasters of the past and the present. Learning about it allows us to know that we can do something about it when the time comes.”
“The youth can do a lot. I hope more would start realizing their power,” he added. “Many thanks to the World Food Programme and their partners for helping us further recognize the importance of being resilient to natural disasters.”