|62. Enhancing local knowledge and adaptations in risk reduction|
|Wednesday, 30 May 2012|
Mariel de Jesus
The conference Seeking Out Security: Understanding the factors affecting the movement of people raised many relevant issues related to internally displaced people (IDP). The movement of people within national borders is not often given focus, unless it is to discuss rural-urban migration as a livelihood strategy.
But people do not move for purely economic reasons, in fact people move for very different motivations. The cases presented showed different factors that come into play - resource tenure, livelihood, conflict, environment - resulting in a complex and multi-dimensional picture of migration and displacement.
As part of the conference program, a field visit to a flood-affected community was organized to give participants an opportunity to understand the risks and the ways the community copes.
In June 2011, heavy rains triggered a flashflood that devastated a riverside community in Matina, Davao City. At around 9:30 pm, the water level gauge at the Matina Bridge was at level 3 (three feet or about a meter) and within 30 minutes, the water level rose to 6.5 feet or almost two meters. In a span of about two hours, the bridge overflowed, flooding areas in five barangays. One of the theories for the huge volume of water was a landslide along the banks of the river, creating a dam that initially blocked the flow of water. When this "dam" eventually gave way, it sent a 12-foot high surge of water, combined with landslide debris, into the downstream barangays.
The community with the most casualties and damage to infrastructure was Barangay Matina Crossing 74-A. It was estimated that the floodwater in this area reached between three to 4.5 meters (or 10 to 15 feet). There were 26 casualties in this barangay alone. The residents of the Arroyo Compound in Barangay Matina Crossing related their community's history in the area, which consists of long, drawn-out legal battles with landowners and competing tenants, community efforts to organize themselves to claim residential lots in the area, implementation of government land allocation policies, and Supreme Court decisions. The community is highly organized and actively seeking ways by which they can secure the land they have lived on since 2005.
The Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) engaged with this community prior to the flood event, together with the Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines, Inc and the Philippine Action for Community-Led Shelter Initiatives, Inc to integrate landslide and flood risk reduction in community-led shelter initiatives. The difficulty with many homeless or landless communities is not only do they not have secure tenure, but much of the land that is available to them, and which they occupy as informal settlers, is often vulnerable to environmental risk. As a result, they settle in areas that are prone to flooding or to landslides, and thus enter into a cycle of displacement and return.
The Arroyo Compound is situated along the bend of the river, making it a very high-risk area in terms of flooding. Although the communities evacuated the area after the flood, they were back in the same place less than six months later, attempting to rebuild their homes. Now, almost a year later - they were planning memorial activities to remember the flood and the community members who died - life seems to have gone back to normal.
In Cagayan de Oro City, some of the communities affected by the floods last December 2011 were fortunate enough to be moved to a relocation site that is currently being developed. Perfect sites are difficult to find, and the community is relocated away from the risk of floods, only to be faced with a different vulnerability context. The site is far from where many of these people used to live and work, and while there is road access, transportation will pose a significant challenge in terms of both cost and access and water and sanitation facilities are limited. The area will likely be a site of much economic development in a few years, so eventually there will be jobs. But at present, livelihood is a critical concern.
In the Philippines, communities are often used as political leverage. They are granted land to build their homes or are lured to particular places with the promise of work and opportunities to help build up a politician's vote base. People allow themselves to be taken advantage of, and in a sense connive with the political situation. The result is a situation of disempowerment and disaster.
Many questions still need to be asked about communities and why they move: what drives their decision? What are their concerns about the place they are leaving and their destination?
As we seek ways forward, we must work with the recognition that communities have knowledge and capacity. We must be able to capture local knowledge to better understand the patterns of voluntary migration, and the reasons why people return to areas they know are high-risk. In our work with migrants and the displaced, we must recognize that it is a partnership and not a dole-out. It is a work collaboration with the areas that host evacuees and migrants in reducing the negative impact on communities who receive these people and balance their different needs.
We see in the cases of the cities of Davao and Cagayan de Oro the reality of risk and vulnerability that people live with, and at the same time, the strategies and adaptations that people make to cope.
It is common to see the displaced as victims of circumstance, but if we look at some of the situations more carefully, we will see that these communities are making decisions, are exercising choices, and are moving strategically insofar as they are able. It is extremely important that we recognize the "agency" of IDPs, and that we work to enhance the community's own knowledge and adaptive capacity in ways that will increase their resilience and empower them to make the right decisions.