Empowering seniors in disaster risk reduction and management

Program proves senior citizens deserve bigger roles in preparing for disasters

— (MANILA, Philippines) What happens when you empower a typically vulnerable sector to lead their communities in times of disaster?

The Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE) advocates including the elderly in planning for disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) in their respective communities.

COSE created the older persons organization-led disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation project, or AA Project for short.

With the support of the German Federal Foreign Office (AA) and HelpAge Deutschland, the AA Project aimed to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable groups to natural hazards, in 60 barangays from Luzon and Visayas. The project ran from April 2016 to March 2018.

Pagtingin kasi ng ating lipunan, karamihan sa kanila ay tinitignan na mainly recipient [ng DRRM ang mga nakatatanda], wala nang pwedeng gawin, wala nang makocontribute. More on yung kahinaan or yung vulnerability ang nakikita,” COSE Executive Director Emily Beridico explained.

(Society views the elderly as merely recipients of DRRM. They can’t do anything. They can’t contribute anything. They only see their weaknesses or vulnerabilities.)

senior citizens
RESOURCES, NOT BURDENS. COSE staff members pose with their AA Project partners from different barangays. Photo by Gaby Baizas/Rappler
Older persons as leaders

Through several accomplishments of the AA Project, the elderly proved they were capable of implementing DRRM programs. COSE Project Coordinator Jefferson Balistoy said that with the proper training older persons organizations will allow communities to propose DRRM solutions more efficiently, as the elderly are more experienced in navigating through disasters in their areas.

“We can identify the [risks] sa mga community, kasi [the elderly] have the experiences, and alam nila kung saan ang mga possible areas na unang makakaranas ng high risk, medium risk, at low risk,” he explained.

(We can identify the [risks] in the communities, because the elderly have the experiences, and they know the possible areas where communities first experience high risks, medium risks, and low risks.)

After the project’s 2-year run, older persons organizations from all 60 barangays were able to increase their communities’ awareness on DRRM, establish committees, and create more inclusive and age-friendly systems.

Apart from these, all the elderly groups also established livelihood projects in their communities, which included improved solid waste management, and homecare services to the sick and bedridden.

Beridico said it was helpful to include the elderly in disaster risk reduction and management efforts.

Sa karanasan namin, sa 30 years na nandito ang COSE, napakalaki ang pwede nilang mai-contribute o ibahagi sa lipunan,” she said.

(In our experience, in the 30 years COSE has been around, [the elderly] can greatly contribute to society.)

COSE is proposing a second phase for the project, to stretch over 3 years, and reach over 80 barangays.

DRRM on the national scale

Republic Act No. 10121, also known as the Philippine DRRM Act of 2010, aims to strengthen disaster management and resilience in the country. Preparing vulnerable sectors for the effects of natural hazards is listed as one of the policies of the State in Section 2 of RA 10121.

The Philippines also placed 50th overall out of 96 countries on the Global AgeWatch Index of 2015, which ranks countries according to the social and economic well-being of older people.

One of the key domains of the Global AgeWatch Index includes the country’s enabling environment, where the Philippines ranks 15th. Enabling environments are measured by access to physical safety for the elderly, alongside the availability of social connections, civic freedom, and public transportation.

Balistoy hopes more DDRM programs in the country, which include other vulnerable sectors apart from the elderly, such as women, children, and persons with disabilities.

“Hopefully [the government] promotes an inclusive program [where] nobody’s left behind. Not only the older persons, but other vulnerable groups, during DRRM, kasama dapat silang lahat. Walang naiiwan, walang nakakalimutan, at dapat lahat handa, (they should all be included. No one is left behind, no one is forgotten, and everyone should be prepared.)” he said.


by Gaby N. Baizas | Rappler.com