The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Over the last ten years, there have been increasing disaster occurrences leaving thousands of victims in their wake. The worsening vulnerability of Filipinos to disasters can be attributed to the country’s geographical characteristics as well as the socio-economic and political situation of the country. Recently the Philippines was declared by the United Nations as the third most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change.
The Philippines is one of the world’s largest archipelagos composed of more than 7,100 islands. It lies along the Western Pacific Basin, the world’s busiest typhoon belt, with the average of 20 typhoons hitting the country each year, five of which are almost always destructive. Coastal and extended swamp areas are prone to floods and storm surges during typhoons. Furthermore, the country is part of the Circum-Pacific Seismic Belt and lies in between two major tectonic plates. There are at least 220 volcanoes around the country and twenty-one (21) of them are active. At least five earthquakes a day occur because of the presence of eight (8) major earthquake generators.
The continuing environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources also contribute to the country’s vulnerability to disasters. Deforestation and other unsustainable farming and mining practices have resulted in flooding, soil erosion, landslides and siltation. Weather aberrations such as the El Nino and La Nina phenomena have, in the past, grossly affected the country’s agricultural production.
The ongoing armed conflict in the country has also resulted to countless number of families displaced from their communities.
Likewise, the worsening poverty of the vast majority of Filipinos constrains their ability to cope with the impact of natural hazards and their ability to recover from the damages and losses from disasters.
The presence of various hazards will continue to put the lives and properties of people at risk. Given this situation, efforts should be initiated to address the people’s vulnerability to disasters.
One of the programs of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) is its Relief and Rehabilitation Program under the Program Unit on Faith, Witness and Service. It seeks to respond to the needs of the people in times of emergency situations and facilitate opportunities for recovery and building capacities in the face of recurring disasters.
II. Biblical Underpinnings
The work on Relief and Rehabilitation is an expression of the churches’ faithfulness to their calling to accompany their faith with deeds for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-17). Furthermore, in the early Christian church, oneness of heart and mind was reflected in, among others, the sharing of resources to ensure that no one was in need (Acts 4: 32-45). In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25: 31-46), the “least of our brothers and sisters” whom the believers must feed, clothe and visit in times of distress, are the poor and the marginalized. These are the people who stand almost defenseless in the face of natural and man-caused disasters.
III. NCCP’s Relief and Rehabilitation Work
Since the NCCP’s birth in 1963, Relief and Rehabilitation work has been an enduring ecumenical concern. In the seventies, the Council was a recipient of USAID grants for natural calamities through the Church World Service.
The Angono, Tagaytay and Los Baños documents, the results of various consultations on development, put forward a development framework which encourages churches to perceive Relief and Rehabilitation not as mere acts of charity. NCCP has a holistic approach to Relief and Rehabilitation which includes awareness raising, people empowerment and advocacy. It has performed a coordinative role of assisting churches, groups, and institutions in re-building the lives of those who are in the throes of destitution brought about by calamities.
IV. Ecumenical Principles in Conducting Relief and Rehabilitation
- Act in ways that respect, empower and protect the dignity, uniqueness, and the intrinsic worth and human rights of every person;
- Uphold the highest professional, ethical and moral standards of accountability, recognising our accountability to those with whom we work, to those who support us, to churches, and ultimately to God;
- Work with communities and individuals on the basis of need without any form of discrimination, ensuring that the capacities and capabilities of communities are considered at all times;
- Work in ways that respect, strengthen, and enable local and regional-level capacity;
- Use humanitarian or development assistance as intended and not to further a particular religious persuasion or a partisan political standpoint;
- Speak out and act against those conditions, structures and systems which increase vulnerability and perpetuate poverty, injustice, human rights violations and the destruction of the environment.
This policy statement was unanimously approved by the delegates of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines 23rd Convention held at Philippine Rice Research Institute in Batac, Ilocos Norte on November 24, 2011.