Project SHIELD: Strengthening Filipinos’ resilience against climate crisis

The Philippines is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly Metro Manila, given its low-lying coastal location and the West Valley Fault (earthquake fault line). Climate change has dramatically worsened over the years with sea levels and temperatures rising.

The Australian Embassy to the Philippines and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), together with local government partners, are working on an AUD18 million initiative called Project Strengthening Institutions and Empowering Localities Against Disasters and Climate Change in the Philippines (SHIELD) from 2022 to 2027.

The first secretary (development) at the Australian Embassy to the Philippines, Paul Harrington, told Maritime Fairtrade that SHIELD aims to help Filipinos become more resilient to the impacts of natural disasters and to create safer communities.

Paul Harrington, first secretary (development) at the Australian Embassy to the Philippines.

The SHIELD program covers the National Capital Region (NCR), Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Albay, Cagayan, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Quezon, Cebu, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Davao Oriental.

“Where SHIELD wants to add value is in strengthening the resilience action at the sub-national level. So, we’re talking about at the level of the province being the entry points of the project,” UNDP SHIELD project manager Paul Villarico said to Maritime Fairtrade.

Bottom-up approach and bridging the gap

SHIELD’s five-member consortium involves UNDP Philippines; the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat); the National Resilience Council; Philippine Business for Social Progress; and the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society.

SHIELD has three components with three national government agencies. DILG leads Component 1 (Local Government Units Resiliency and Resourcing). OCD heads Component 2. DOST and Australian science agencies handle Component 3 producing scientific data.

“Working with five distinct organizations is a lot more complicated than dealing with just one, and shepherding different agendas towards a single goal and vision does take a lot of time and effort,” explained Harrington.

“Adjusting to this bottom-up approach presented some delays, as this is new to our local government partners but it has promoted ownership and inspired our local chief executives to be more engaged.”

UNDP took on the challenges of streamlining and creating connections in terms of data across all governance levels, including gender mainstreaming and social inclusion. Villarico emphasized on closing capacity financing and inclusion gaps. This is through supporting resilience action via brokering and facilitating connections as well as ensuring good practice and technical expertise across all sectors.

“When we’re talking about closing those gaps, we’re referring to the perennial challenges for planning and implementing and monitoring resilience actions,” added Villarico.

Preparing for the “Big One” in Manila

The Big One, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake is foreseen to hit Metro Manila due to the West Valley Fault, traversing multiple cities of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna. Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) said a massive quake could happen in this lifetime since the fault is already ripe for another movement.

“We see our work in the NCR expanding to cover activities that will boost earthquake resilience and preparedness in light of the possible Big One,” said Harrington.

The city planning officials are working on Comprehensive Development Plans (CDP) under DILG-NCR’s Upscaling Plans for Resilient Urban Governance (UPSURGE), ensuring the plan is climate and disaster risk-informed as well as aligned with local policies.

Harrington added: “The objectives of both SHIELD and UPSURGE are very much aligned and we are very excited to support our partner cities in the NCR by establishing local multi-stakeholder partnerships; strengthening local capacities for risk-informed development planning and budgeting; and supporting the formulation of local ordinances that prioritize disaster and climate resilience actions.”

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is preparing the Metro Manila Regional Physical Framework Plan to set parameters for maximizing available land and resources for future city developments. The Philippines currently has the Disaster and Climate Change Resilience Hub, the center for risk-informed development planning and budgeting. 

GeoRiskPH and Development through Local Indicators and Vulnerability Exposure Database (DevLIVE+) are central repositories of information on natural hazards and risk assessment. The latter is a database on households, building structures, for production areas, for monitoring and access to basic services, delivery of services, to assess vulnerabilities and exposure to hazards and risks.

“(DOST-PHIVOLCS) have demonstrated how even in the most practical of applications for instance, if you wish to purchase land, you could go to GeoRisk and see if the land you are intent on purchasing is faced with hazards,” explained Villarico.

Geoscience Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) also went on a scoping mission with PHIVOLCS and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

“Broadening access to accurate and timely scientific data to support local resilience action is one of the main goals of SHIELD and we are eager to see how various existing databases will be made interoperable and accessible to local planners and the broader public over the next few years,” said Harrington.

There are other initiatives under the massive project such as the National Economic and Development Authority’s National Resilience Index; OCD’s Manual of Operations for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Committee and providing technical assistance to the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.

Disaster planning in the provinces

The Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority (BPDA) partnered with UNDP to create the BARMM Spatial Development Framework (BSDF) 2024 to 2050.

“The BSDF is a landmark planning document that will outline how the BARMM regional government will maximize its land and natural resources to steer land use and physical development; build disaster and climate resilience; and promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the region over the next 25 years,” said Harrington.

The UN-Habitat also conducted a workshop in Northern Samar on using the Provincial Climate Risks Diagnostics (PCRD) tool. The risk assessment results are used to create strategies, prioritize projects, and create new investments to make communities safer and more resilient over time.

UNDP Philippines said they have completed several activities in nine out of 13 provinces including Metro Manila and BARMM. They are aiming to have Cebu, Cagayan, Pampanga, and Pangasinan on board by mid-2024.

All photos credit: Australian Embassy to the Philippines

Top photo: First Secretary (Development) Paul Harrington visits IOM Safe Room Resilient Shelter in Siargao Island.

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