In the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda which rendered massive and horrific devastation in the Visayas on 8th November 2013, the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) galvanizes its resources to address challenges posed by the catastrophic effects of climate change. With the utilization of researches and appropriate use of technology in addressing these challenges, ADDU is in a privileged position to educate and form the community–both internal and external–on climate change awareness, mobilization of resources, quick and sustained responses to natural calamities, and disaster preparedness.

University-Wide Initiative

Locating the use of appropriate academic researches and technology in the face of natural calamities that can wreak havoc on people, infrastructure, and the environment, the University Research Council (URC)  reflected on the important role of ADDU’s existing centers/institutes especially in providing relevant mechanisms for engagement.  There is, therefore, a need to tighten the integration of existing initiatives done by these centers/institutes, such as the Tropical Institute for Climate Studies (TropICS), the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATE), and the Ateneo Migration Center (AMC), inorder to better address challenges rendered by the impact of natural calamities and other physical disturbances.  The Arrupe Office of Social Formation, with its mandate in promoting awareness of these social realities, can then assist in fostering social formation among ADDU’s internal stakeholders.  In this way, the university community, through the University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC), will also be in a better position to mount strategic engagements in response to calamities in the wider community.

Disaster Preparedness in the Context of Davao City

It is important to highlight that the university’s resources in dealing with the impact of climate change is driven by a strong desire to offer the city government of Davao and other local government units (LGUs) in different localities (particularly those that have remained vulnerable to the impact of natural calamities) in the aspect of pre-science disaster preparedness. In the case of Davao City, the question of preparedness was brought to the fore when Council Mabel Sunga-Acosta, in a privilege speech before the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP), blurted out, “it’s completely fine that Davao City helps others but just exactly how prepared are we?” This concern regarding Davao’s vulnerability to massive storms in the same scale and magnitude as Yolanda’s is a focal point of convergence in which the need for thorough information dissemination becomes an imperative.

“Don’t Be Blown Away, Science Will Help Save the Day” Forum

To coordinate all efforts toward this end, the URC and the centers/institutes under its governance such as TropICS, CREATE and AMC, the Arrupe Office of Social Formation, and the UCEAC, have managed to convene and pool their resources together to promote climate change awareness in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda.  As for the initial layer of this information dissemination and consciousness building effort, the convenors planned to conduct a forum on 26th November 2013 at the Finster Auditorium from 1:30 p.m. to 5:40 p.m., aptly entitled “Don’t Be Blown Away, Science Will Help Save the Day.” The forum intends not just to provide a current briefer on the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, but also to raise the level of awareness and understanding on the science of tropical cyclones, the risks (that is, disasters) involved in them, and their short-term and long-term impact in the context of climate change.  Likewise, it promotes greater integration of initiatives within the university in addressing the challenges posed by climate change.  It then aims to chart a strategy of engaging the city government of Davao in terms of boosting the city’s ability to adapt with the challenges posed by climate change. In the aspect of understanding people’s adaptive behaviour in the event of natural calamities, the forum also intends to reflect on the culture of resiliency and coping mechanism of those who survived natural calamities.  All these objectives are geared toward searching for more effective, efficient, pragmatic and, most especially, scientific measures in adapting disaster risk reduction, mitigation and management in dealing with natural disasters.

Bringing in a phalanx of experts to shed light on climate change awareness, the following resource persons of the forum are as following: Geoastrophysicist Fr. Daniel McNamara, SJ, ADDU’s Dean of Arts & Sciences and former head of the Manila Observatory will talk about The Science of Tropical Cyclones; atmospheric science expert Dr. Gemma Narisma, the current head of the Regional Climate Systems Program of the Manila Observatory will talk about Typhoon Yolanda: The Anatomy of a Disaster; Dr. Lourdes Simpol, director of TropICS, and Dr. Leah Vidal, chair of Department of Anthropology will tackle the topics Have We Learned? Hazards and Culture, highlighting the result of the studies of TropiCS in relation to Typhoon Pablo which hit eastern Mindanao in December of 2012 and the flash flood in Matina Aplaya in June of 2011, as well as highlighting the socio-cultural and anthropological aspect of coping with natural disasters. This forum is expect to be attended not only by members of the university community but also by stakeholders of the issue from outside the university, including LGUs and other government agencies such as the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (both city and regional), PAGASA, Philippine National Red Cross, other civil society groups, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations, among others.

Wider Engagement through Private-Public Partnership

The university did an initial spadework in creating a far wider collaborative strategy in the promotion of climate change awareness and disaster preparedness.  As a preparatory to the forum on 26th November, the university–through the URC and UCEAC, in the presence and support of relevant offices in the university–called for a meeting with some members of Davao City’s Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP) in the afternoon of 18th November 2013 at the Finster Boardroom. The meeting was a concrete initial step to widen the university’s engagement in promoting disaster preparedness. As an opening salvo, Fr. Daniel McNamara, SJ did a presentation on the science of tropical cyclone, using the example of Super Typhoon Yolanda, to set the tone of the meeting.

As a university that has a greater capacity not just to foster social awareness on natural disasters but more importantly to offer scientific and technical expertise in dealing with the more complex issues on the environmental, the university will adapt engagement strategies to include capacity-building, research, partnership and networking, advocacy and technology development.  The meeting with the city councillors was an effort to reach out to local legislators to inquire on what the city has been doing on climate change, as well as to raise the issues involving the science of pre-disaster preparedness.  The meeting was attended by Hon. Karlos S. Bello of the 3rd District, Hon. Danilo Dayanghirang of the 2nd District and the current chair of the SP’s Committee of the Environment, the chief operations officer of Hon. Leo Avila, and the legal researcher of Hon. Mabel Sunga-Acosta, the representative of Hon. Marissa Abella, among others.

The meeting, facilitated by UCEAC chair, Atty. Romeo Cabarde, turned out to be a fruitful platform for dialogue as the councillors and their representatives shared what they know of Davao City’s level of preparedness in the aspect of natural calamities that have plagued some of the city’s vulnerable areas. Davao City has had its own share of difficult experiences in dealing with flash flooding and other environment-related catastrophes. After making an inventory of the city’s capacity and limitation to deal with the impact of flooding and the like, the university came prepared by generously offering the city its available resources in the form of capacity-building, research, partnership and networking, advocacy and technology development through its relevant centers and institutes, inorder to help promote a climate resilient city. 

The meeting ended with an invitation to attend the wider forum on climate change awareness on Tuesday, 26th November 2013. (by M. Isabel S. Actub, Arrupe Communications & Advocacy and Ms. Lourdesita Sobrevega-Chan, University Research Council)