CLIMATE change has become a hot social, political and economic topic worldwide. There are notable changes in well established weather patterns that governments and institutions have radically modified their forecasting models and, more importantly, made serious course correction in mitigating the effects of these changes.
In the Philippines we have seen major catastrophes brought about by the weather with alarming frequency and intensity that response and preparation has become a part of the core agenda of development. One key factor for this is the availability of necessary resources at the right place and time. And this becomes an even greater challenge as we are an archipelago – a nation with 7,100 islands.
Checking out the landscape you find that a national network of facilities and logistics are best to respond during times of natural calamities. The response time for disaster relief will be best managed from multiple jump-off points throughout the country rather than a single or centralized one. Thus the rationale for the empowerment of local government units in the Local Government Code, the devolution of certain government services like health from the national government to local governments or why the federal form of government is looking attractive not that the national leadership has emerged from the old “imperial Manila.”
For private sector initiatives, businesses with a national community presence have been noted to be the best empowered to respond to such disasters. Take the SM group, for example. It has 58 malls nationwide, has 18 completed residential projects in Metro Manila with more coming up nationally, at least eight commercial buildings and properties, six hotels, convention centers, smaller grocery stores and almost a thousand BDO (bank) branches nationwide.
This has allowed SM to respond immediately to some of the worst disasters the country has faced in recent times. The most obvious of course is that the SM facilities and personnel were geared to receive relief donations from the public, such as what was done in the major flooding of typhoon Ondoy that poured an unprecedented volume of precipitation in Metro Manila. This was a testament to their accessibility to the public nationwide.
Shortly after Ondoy was the Pangasinan flooding by the release of Dam water due to typhoon Pepeng. SM City in Rosales, Pangasinan was inundated, its first floors underwater and over 1,000 people stranded on its roof deck. In a way the presence of the new mall in that community served as a defacto rescue and relief center. Even the grocery stocks that floated on the flood waters provided relief to the residents of the area with SM management not thinking twice about letting people have them, contrary to some reports that the center was looted. A helicopter delivering relief goods to those stranded and later transported a pregnant woman in premature labor to Tarlac.
In the more recent super typhoon Yolanda which devastates Tacloban City, the rest of Leyte Province and all the other Visayas areas along its path, SM facilities, logistics and manpower were among the first responders, providing a staging ground in Cebu for major relief efforts and almost immediately coming into hard hit areas, the first among which was Bantayan Island.
In Manila, the continuous influx typhoon refugees flown from Tacloban via Air force C-130s were aided, processed, health checked and fed by many volunteer groups and individuals. The SM Foundation was among those that gave heavily to this action, staying until the last disaster victim was aided.
While its national community-based presence has aided in its response, SM has likewise learned for these disaster experiences and taken a proactive stance on its investments in the various localities. Their development designs have taken that “green” initiative with tie ups in commercial Solar power generation and installation of catchment facilities for flood control wherever they build have become pro forma.
SM Prime, through its president Hans Sy, spearheaded the launch of UNISDR Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE) which today has 20 leading companies in the Philippines joining the global effort to ensure the private sector puts disaster risk information at the heart of investment strategies. “Our country is one of the most disaster exposed in the world and this is why so many leading companies here are keen to join ARISE,” Sy, who sits as international board member for ARISE, has pointed out. “Risk-informed private sector investment is more cost-effective than relying on post-disaster response and recovery.”
Beyond talk, SM malls have integrated these concepts into their business model. SM Prime built its Cabanatuan City mall with careful and deliberate design considerations to support business continuity and add to public safety. Given that the mall is in a historically flood-prone area in Nueva Ecija province, SM designed it with a basement parking area capable of holding 14 million gallons of flood water. In October of 2015, Typhoon Lando inundated 90% of the city yet the mall handled the flooding due to its design and preparation. During the storm the mall housed 400 people and even kept its supermarket open to provide food.
This made SM Cabanatuan a positive case study for disaster risk management, as discussed in detail by ARISE and Prevention Web, a website dedicated to the information needs of the disaster reduction community. The following are what Prevention Web calls the recorded learnings of the SM Cabanatuan experience:
- SM Prime saw the opportunity of doing business while considering the risk.
- The additional 10% in costs to build a disaster resilient mall were more than recouped in avoided losses.
- SM Prime gained more trust with its stakeholders because it anticipated the risk and took action based on their needs, rendering a sustainable competitive advantage.
The extent and reach of big businesses such as the SM group have redefined the concept of community development, where their presence has aided not only the rise in property values but has added value to the development and growth of the community, and the capacity to mitigate the natural calamities which they are so vulnerable to in these changing times.