From Strength to Strength

Project: Learning Project 5th September 2017

It is of no question that the Philippines has a dynamic civil society sector. Based on estimates, the number of non-government organizations (NGO) in the country reach to 500,000. Although a fraction of these are officially registered, the number of development NGOs is approximately within the range of 3,000 to 5,000.

On 25 August, 24 local NGOs convened in a national conference, the culminating event of Kindernothilfe (KNH) and Action Against Hunger’s I-RESPOND project which strives to improving resilience of partners to natural disasters. I-RESPOND aimed at strengthening the understanding and knowledge of KNH NGO partners on DRR and Climate Change Adaptation principles, concepts and processes as they integrate these into their respective policies and programming.

KNH partner NGOs hail from different parts of the country with different mandates, steeped with experience and insights on their areas of expertise and for most, their emerging work in DRR. Common to these NGOs are their rootedness to the communities and in-depth understanding of participatory governance. Infusing DRR principles and approaches thru capacity development did not seem like adding another layer to their work but only reinforced the importance of DRR and guided them on how they can complement DRR knowledge to their existing work.

One of these NGOs is Caritas Masbate Foundation which participated in the project’s participatory capacity and vulnerability analysis (PCVA) process and re-echoed the process with its communities. Common to the discussion of Caritas Masbate and other NGOs are: (1) the interest and willingness of community members to embrace the PCVA process; (2) the reluctance of certain key local government officials to support the process; (3) the discovery or recognition of a hazard (in the case of Caritas Masbate, this was the three meter mining stockpile located in close proximity to a public school); and (4) the need to engage in advocacy due to inaction by decision-makers.

In another vein, the national conference highlighted the perennial challenge in Philippine governance, the uneven, weak, or absence of implementation of lifesaving laws such as the crucial DRRM law at the local levels. Consistently, NGOs shared that in most cases (1) DRR councils at the local level, in particular, at the barangay/village level lack the capacity to lead DRR process and to implement the DRRM national law; (2) local government officials are not proactive in addressing key hazards identified by the communities; (3) DRR plans lack thorough process and careful preparation seemingly preparing to fail.
A representative from the government agency tasked to coordinate DRRM, on the other hand, noted the following: (1) implementation gaps not only in terms of DRR plans are prevalent in many local governments emphasizing the important role of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) which is mandated to provide general supervision over local governments and (2) in areas with robust DRR plans, a NGO is active for sure.
I-RESPOND national conference conveyed the importance of linking DRR capacity development of NGOs to advocacy work. Building resilience requires more than improving skills and knowledge. Preparedness to natural disasters including human-induced disasters requires DRR governance and political will, hence, NGO capacity to negotiate and influence.

The presence of a fraction (as compared to the 500,000 reported NGOs across the country) of NGOs trained on DRR is a strong argument for localization of humanitarian response. The case can be stronger should a comprehensive scoping of capacities be done. Should a disaster occur in the areas where these NGOs operate, any humanitarian response should leverage on their presence, expertise, longevity of commitment and in-depth community organizing experience.
As early as now, preparedness and humanitarian leaders should be cognizant of the dynamic presence of civil society in each locality.

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