PH+SocialGood: The Social Good Summit in Manila

Sep 25, 2013

Conveners of the Social Good Summit in Manila lead the declaration of a unity statement, a pledge to promote, among other things, a culture of safety and resilience through social media. Photo: Philip Castro/UNDP Philippines.

Manila, Philippines
- The Philippines kicked off the global Social Good Summit (SGS) 2013 with a conference in Manila last Saturday, September 21. Convened by Rappler in partnership with UNDP and Google, the local summit focused on how technology and social media can help in mitigating the impact of natural disaster and climate change.

“Two of the most serious challenges that threaten sustainable development globally are climate change and disasters. Their impacts could easily take away whatever gains any country may have on development. Therefore, the significance of addressing the threat of natural disasters and climate change cannot be overemphasized. Especially for a country that is prone to catastrophes such as the Philippines, it is one concern that we must increasingly incorporate into our overall development agenda in the 21st century,” said UNDP Country Director, Toshihiro Tanaka. 

As the second most vulnerable metropolitan area to the disastrous effects of climate change, Manila is the perfect venue for this year’s SGS. Over 600 participants including experts, government officials, and volunteers come together to discuss disaster risk reduction and preparedness. 

Climate Change Commission Secretary Lucille Sering further helped frame the problem on climate change by highlighting its threat to the Philippines. She explained that the series of disasters from typhoons, which increases in intensity, is a clear manifestation of this fact. Nevertheless, Sering remained hopeful reminding everyone that “there is really hope for our country,” emphasizing the importance of disaster mitigation.

A known environmentalist, Senator Loren Legarda, for her part, explained what the legislative government is doing against climate change. She shared that the government has already passed several environmental laws and policies including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Climate Change Act, and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act. However, these and the national government’s influence can only reach so far. "Without a united front against climate change, we can do little to minimize the risks," the senator said. 

The power of technology: Solutions for disaster response 

Intensifying natural hazards because of climate change need not necessarily translate to disasters. New technologies and social media have helped made this happen by improving disaster response and promoting disaster resiliency. 

Google’s product manager in South East Asia, Andrew McGlinchey, offered some insights on the role of technology and social media. He shared that people turn to the internet for information during disasters. Therefore, triggered by the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Google’s crisis response helped ensure the right information is available in times of need by building tools to collect and share emergency information, and by supporting first responders in using technology to help improve and save lives. Some of the tools develop by the company and made available to those in need are Google public alert, Google person finder, and custom Google maps.  

Rappler CEO, Maria Ressa explained that in times of crisis, the internet shows how people tend to form information hubs, which vary in nature, but all the same, bring people together to discuss the issues and crisis. In times of disaster, internet presence can go a long way she said further. 

Patrick Meier of Digital Humanitarians stressed that access to information is as important as access to food and shelter.  Noting that "people use social media to communicate during crisis," he lauded the efforts of the government and netizens in promoting the use of unified hashtags in the Philippines. This facilitated easier consolidation of information during disasters. Therefore, when Typhoon Pablo hit the country in 2012, they were able to produce a crisis map for UN OCHA in record time, utilizing crowdsource data, shared in real time.

Meier also explained that information is perishable. Therefore making accurate and real-time information is critical. For instance, in 2008, Myanmar lost over 100,000 lives due to flooding brought by Cylone Nargis as shared by Tanaka. While the information on what was happening during that time was available, the country fell short on sharing them to everyone. In the end, information, when withheld, only benefits a few, he said.  

Collective action and shared responsibility

"Some things cannot be done through short cut processes. Dealing with the dangers of natural hazards and climate change is one of them,” said Tanaka. He suggested that solutions to the problems necessitate collective action and shared responsibility.

To demonstrate this, several public and private initiatives related to disaster preparedness and response were discussed. Representatives from the government (i.e., Office of the Civil Defense/ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, and Project Noah), and international (i.e., World Food Programme) agencies, and private sector (i.e., Globe, Smart and Weather Philippines) talked about what they’re doing and the challenges they are facing on the issue.

Collective action on disaster preparedness and response is best exemplified in the case of Albay provincial government as shared by it’s governor, Joey Salceda, during the forum. Despite being constantly hit by disaster from typhoons and volcanic eruptions, the provincial government managed to prevent casualties due to their disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) and climate change adaptation (CCA) efforts. Governor Salceda emphasized that DRR/CCA is “all about people.” Therefore, the “capacity to save a community should be built in the community,” he said. 

Some community-led actions on disaster response organized by well-established as well as newly organized volunteer groups were highlighted during the event. These include online-initiated initiative, such as RescuePH, and school-led efforts, such as Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro.  Leading the response, of course, is the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) as the country’s premier voluntary, independent and autonomous humanitarian organization. PRC Chairman, Richard Gordon, speaking on effective disaster preparedness left the following pointers “predict, plan, prepare, practice.” 

Project Agos: One-stop shop for climate change 

Capping off the one-day summit is the launch of Project Agos (Flow), an initiative that brings together government, the private sector and citizens to tackle climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Project Agos engages more stakeholders to build a platform for preparedness, response and recovery. It is is a collaborative and long-term project that brings in more than 30 partners for top-down governance and bottom-up civic engagement. 

"Think of Project Agos as a reservoir of government (and) private sector efforts...enhanced by social media, by big data. In other words, by you, the people," Voltaire Tupaz of Rappler's MovePH said. 

With the Philippines as the social media and texting capital of the world, Tupaz said the problem in disaster risk reduction is not the availability of information, but its fragmentation. 

"What [Project Agos] does is present the most relevant information in an intuitive and useful interface customized for local government, responders, and citizens." 

In the next months, Rappler along with its partners such as the UNDP, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Climate Change Commission, aim to get the first phase of the platform functional. 

The forum concluded in the declaration of a unity statement: a pledge to promote, among other things, a culture of safety and resilience through social media.

Ressa hoped that “someday, we will come together to say we helped prevent the loss of life.”

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