Mandated to advance national development and also to help save people’s lives, the University of the Philippines established the UP Resilience Institute (RI) in July 2016, followed by its adoption of the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH) Center in March 2017 as its core component.
By harnessing the expertise of academics and professionals in the fields of science and technology as well as the arts and humanities, these UP hubs are at the forefront of scientific research and extension work on natural hazards, climate change actions, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and the promotion of disaster resilience in the Philippines and the Pacific Rim.
The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world, and minding its many tantrums is the unenviable but vital job of UP’s top disaster scientist, Dr. Alfredo Mahar Francisco A. Lagmay. A faculty member of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS), Lagmay also concurrently heads the RI and the NOAH Center.
Dr. Lagmay obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UP and holds a PhD degree in Earth Sciences from the University of Cambridge. He is also an Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).
Our own backyard
One of the first projects of the RI and the NOAH Center aims to make all UP campuses and communities around the country resilient to climate change and geared for long-term development.
Lagmay explains that UP “must first do it in our own backyard, if we are to get all municipalities to prepare and plan ahead. We can’t preach what we don’t practice. The first step is to do the resilient campuses project so that it can be a model for campuses in the Philippines.” He says that the project uses climate change projections prescribed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific and intergovernmental body under the United Nations.
“We have to translate the projections of climate change into hazard maps that can be used by the UP campuses to plan ahead and to develop. Before we do it for the entire Philippines, we must do it in our backyard first. I’m not saying the campuses are not planned. I’m saying that campuses need to be more resilient and adaptive to the climate change impacts, building resilience, which is relatively a new concept,” Lagmay says.
Probabilistic hazard maps
According to Lagmay, the RI and NOAH have many projects lined up, aside from the resilient UP campuses project. Among these are the completion of climate flood maps for the entire Philippines for the years 2049-2079, and the landslide maps for 2049-2079, based on the representative concentration pathways 4.5 and 8.5 as prescribed by the IPCC.
“We also are producing storm surge hazard maps with climate change projections. Basically, these are multi-scenario, multi-hazard maps. Collectively, they’re called probabilistic hazard maps that get us to understand better the risks involved in planning against hazard impacts. We also have a project on detecting CO2 using low-cost UV cameras, and another on solid waste management,” Lagmay adds.
“We are also proposing to study the interaction of the seas, land, and atmosphere. Because here in the Philippines and in other tropical areas, as well as areas near the equator, it’s very hard to predict weather, and largely that may be due to unknown factors related to the interaction of the sea, ocean, land and atmosphere. That needs to be understood,” he emphasizes.
Dr. Lagmay says that Senator Loren Lagarda wanted the UP Resilience Institute “to lead all the state universities and colleges in helping the Climate Change Commission get the local government units to complete their local climate change action plans.”
He looks forward to completing the abovementioned tasks. “It’s a huge task. But with all the previous projects that we have been engaged in over the past several years—like the 30 mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in 34 municipalities of Leyte and Samar, and the rebuild projects in Iloilo and Cagayan—we have learned a lot. And with the proper budget, we can cascade this knowledge through the different UP campuses to the state universities and colleges, so each state university and college can be an information and training hub for their locality.”
This setup will also leverage “the technical expertise of the different faculty members of all of these universities across different sectors: health, infrastructure, energy, environment, biodiversity, tourism, and many other sectors,” Lagmay explains.
Open and shared data
“Disaster risk is an unresolved problem of development. If the communities plan well, if they are smart in developing, putting the structures, the evacuation centers, critical facilities out of harm’s way, or if it’s in harm’s way, knowing what to do to address the problem, you are actually reducing disaster risk. So by reducing disaster risk you are becoming more adaptive and resilient through development planning,” he adds.
This will enable the development of communities nationwide, spurring economic growth and meeting the goals of sustainable development.
But this kind of whole-of-government approach will require open and shared data. “To be able to do all of those things, you need to open up data. You need everybody to have access. And all over the world, that’s where disaster prevention and mitigation are leading. We share to generate more knowledge that’s more powerful to address our problems. If you don’t share the data, if data is kept under control in certain offices, you may compromise opportunity, and that opportunity could be a chance to save lives.”
According to Lagmay, NOAH data can be downloaded via the Internet “preferably by bulk download,” without any preconditions. “If it’s publicly funded, the people should be able to access and take advantage of that information. In time, with the work of NOAH and the UP Resilience Institute, with better education, we can learn to be able to share valuable data that saves people’s lives. That is one of the main goals of UP RI and NOAH,” he said.
He also urges the use of transdiciplinary tools to promote disaster and risk awareness. “Use music, use poetry, use the arts to raise awareness about disasters. Science must be embraced by the people. Because if it gets embraced, its value grows. There’s direct application. Benefits are seen. And for the field of disaster risk reduction, it will mean saving lives and getting communities to develop better, unhampered by natural hazard impacts,” Lagmay concludes.