Localization, Inclusion and Integrated Approach on Disaster Risk Reduction

June 23, 2017 by Guest Blogger

Written by Nanette Salvador-Antequisa

Nanette is the Executive Director of EcoWEB, a non-governmental organisation based in the Philippines. Here she comments on discussions and lessons learned from the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) held in Cancun on 24-26 May.

I first visited the area of Tangclao, on the island of Mindanao, in 2004, right after the 2003 war. The area is home to various armed groups, including insurgencies and gangs. Several spikes in conflict have caused large scale displacement. The area is underdeveloped from an infrastructure perspective and susceptible to flash flooding and landslides. The area is vulnerable to natural and human-made disasters, and the political insecurity and lack of local governance means that many locals rely on illegal logging practices to make ends meet.

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Participants of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) held in Cancun, Spain on May 24-26, 2017. Regina Antequisa (in black & white overcoat), is among the Philippines’ delegates in this conference.

Unfortunately, this desperate action has degraded the quality of the land and put communities living along riverbanks at risk of flash flooding. In fact, this byproduct of illegal timber trade activity has already cost a number of people their lives.

In 2009, following another wave of displacement 6 months after the October 2008 Mindanao war that affected this area, I escorted a group of villagers back to their homes. Upon reaching their destination, a local military representative asked me ‘why do you assist these people when they are all rebels?’ I replied ‘Sir, if I were a resident of this place, I may also do the same.’ I tried to explain to him what might oblige people to take this course of action in the first place; no other opportunity for economic security, and a lack of even the most basic resources.

Given these profound and complex challenges, and in cooperation with the provincial and local governments, the military and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a project aiming to save the forest and better equip the local community to reduce identified disaster risks was undertaken. This was the third wave of our intervention (the first two took place over 2006-2008 and provided the community with access to potable water and sanitation services).

The local population, including community and faith leaders from the surrounding area, have expressed their support for our work, and have taken action. We have also been provided with resources to mobilize our staff, and have the backing of local military commanders. But, as with other projects we have supported, regardless of how much the initiative is welcomed by the local community, if political leadership is not committed, ensuring the long-term sustainability of this programme will be difficult.

20170525_132846To me this story demonstrates how Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is not possible without three key elements: Localisation (participation of communities); Inclusion (incorporating all vulnerable sectors of the population); and a focus on the local ecosystem. To address these elements, two key actions are needed: partnership amongst all stakeholders and political leadership.

Localisation and Empowerment

As local practitioner of DRR, participation in the 2017 GPDRR was an opportunity to see how actions and advocacy – initiated at a local level years ago – are now being taken forward by global leaders.

Localisation for us means participation, not just consultation. Localisation means real empowerment of communities, recognition of local capabilities and supporting grassroots DRR processes. Through community-led initiatives, we see how people affected by disasters become the drivers of their own recovery, and champions of their own development.


Community participation means including everyone affected. But in practice minority and vulnerable groups (such as people living with disabilities, children and the elderly) are often overlooked. As a result, these sections of the population do not adequately take part in community-level processes, missing an opportunity to hear their voice and use their talents. Too frequently, decision-makers forget that everyone affected by disasters can also be a part of the solution.

20170525_142912Ecosystems and integrated approach

Practitioners of DRR have often incorporated ecosystems as a central part of their strategies, but for a long time this aspect has been isolated from wider discussions. However, the experiences of my organisation, including protection of watersheds, promotion of sustainable agriculture and advocating for better approaches to natural resource management, have helped EcoWEB and our partners to be successful at reducing the risk faced by disasters. In fact, we believe that meaningful DRR cannot be achieved without protection of the environment, and sustainable development.

Partnership and political leadership

The three elements of DRR can only be successful in a setting where efforts and resources complement one another, and are combined with strong and clear leadership.

Local initiatives of EcoWEB and our partners have taught me some major lessons. In particular, partnership (among all stakeholders) and political leadership are key to ensuring participation of all people in affected communities. They help to address the challenges caused by natural and human-induced disasters.

Through partnership between EcoWEB and communities, INGOs, faith-based groups, the private sector, and government, local initiatives for DRR have been made possible. But while some of the initiatives have continued, others did not survive in the long-term. One of the major factors to sustaining the positive impact of DRR initiatives has been the political leadership and commitment of government partners, especially of the local government departments.

Call to Action

In the Philippines, we are proud of our policies that protect our ecosystem and conserve our natural resources. But communities continue to be vulnerable. The magnitude and impact on communities that disasters continue to demonstrate shows that policies are not enough. To have an impact, more work still needs to be done.

The GPDRR plenary session on local and global DRR strategies put forward the following recommendations in addressing these challenges:

  1. Enhance risk awareness and ensure informed communities;
  2. Inclusion of civil society organisations, communities and local actors in all DRR programming at all levels, with clearly defined responsibilities;
  3. No one can work in isolation; we need global action; and
  4. Strong political leadership and commitment to address global issues on poverty, displacement, ecosystems degradation and climate change, among others.

While the voices of civil society organisations have already reached the global level, challenges still remain. The needs of communities must continue to be heard, until global policies and commitments result in coordinated action at a national and local level.  Only then can we ensure that all communities will be able to reduce the risk and impact of disasters.