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Imagine yourself having to swim against all kinds of floods since you were 3 years old – muddy and murky, raging and angry. Now picture yourself lining up for food rations during relief operations – it’s stressful and demeaning, especially when as you neared the person handing out rations, they then shouted out: “Please come back later! The relief goods are not enough!” And you were only 5! Then take a look at the homeless families and jobless parents after each passing typhoon. The numbers grow increasingly alarming year after year.

Growing up, I told myself I needed to make it different for my children, and make it better for others too! Such dreams and conviction brought me to NASSA/Caritas Philippines.

In the last four years since Typhoon Haiyan, NASSA/Caritas Philippines responded to six strong typhoons and the Marawi crisis. Each time, we needed to urgently draft reports, press releases, emergency and solidarity appeals. And each time, though done successfully, we struggled with basic first-hand information.

Interestingly, in the nine Yolanda dioceses for example, we already have the Participatory Disaster Risk Assessments (PDRA) results and the mapping! In other dioceses, we have the results of the Community Organising Participatory Action Research (COPAR)! And in the last decade, we have responded to 14 different disasters all over the country. So the question is: where have we placed and saved our database! The answer? It mostly remained with the communities and the dioceses.

I first officially spoke of the idea in September 2016 when I enrolled in NASSA/Caritas Philippines’ Lead to Heal – Transformational Leadership Program, and my only thought was – life is already difficult, why make it more so? If we wanted to be better and be respected in what we do, then we needed to step up our game with tools, mechanisms, resources and information – information that was accurate, reliable, accessible, relevant and up to date.

However, the more I shared the concept, the more it became realistic and necessary. At some point when I told Fr. Edu Gariguez about it, our Executive Secretary, we were already discussing the possibility of digitising the PDRA maps! Then when I attended UN-OCHA’s Asia conference in October 2016, I took the chance to share the need to have updated, relevant and accurate disaster information even before any disasters with United Methodist Church, World Vision, First Response Radio, and UN-OCHA’s Asia Pacific and Philippine offices. In May 2017, seedfunding from Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) just sealed the deal.

The #DIGITALPH project would like to attempt to influence a paradigm shift in how we respond to humanitarian crises and do development programming through a more participative, localised and aggressive pre and post disaster information management that is continuously improving, innovating, and responsive to the new normal.

So it cannot be business as usual, as we have been saying it at NASSA/Caritas Philippines. Therefore, I am proposing to the national Caritas, that to be more effective in our program implementation, we may want to adapt and contextualise the pre-crisis mapping tool to go vis à vis with our PDRA tool and process, to give us a more comprehensive and ready-to-use online database especially during emergencies.

Jing Rey Henderson, NASSA/Caritas Philippines' Communications and Partnership Development Coordinator, during one of the project presentations with the Diocesan Social Action Centres.

We have to take a closer look at how we synchronise and articulate our programs to suitably integrate the overarching principles and strategies like community-managed disaster risk reduction, self-help group approach to savings mobilisation, volunteer management, resource mobilisation, and our priority advocacies. As we aim to further improve our MEAL system, this is the right time to also strengthen information management and data analysis. In the same manner, as one of the leading faith-based organisations in the country, we are well placed to influence other organisations to put a stamp of environment protection, human dignity and values formation in every program that we implement as they should be part of the baseline data! Moreover, this is now the most opportune time to revisit the way we do capacity building for the Diocesan Social Action Centres (DSACs). Lastly, this can be one of our concrete responses to localisation!

To the government and aid organisations, while we are doing the sunset review of the national Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) law, it would be helpful to re-assess how we are responding to the numerous findings of the Commission on Audit on the use of the local DRRM fund. While we argue on whether to have a separate agency for DRRM, we need to invest in more serious and consistent law enforcement. Additionally, can we bring our partnerships to another level and collaborate by doing pre-disaster information mapping in our respective local government units and areas of operation? Imagine if all are sharing the same information before the next typhoon comes? Coordination will be easy. Preposition of goods and services can be done even months before! And we can achieve a “survivor-led response.” Can we invest more on this than hopping from one project to another that seldom produce sustainable results?

Just this year, we submitted another proposal to try #DIGITALPH in conflict-stricken communities. This is the story of a dream we started in Barangay Catmon in Tanauan municipality, Leyte province. Let’s try to make this a story of the entire Philippines, one island at a time.

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