Coping vs adapting: Aetas face tough choices as climate threats creep in

For Cristy Balintay�an Aeta leader of her community in Barangay San Miguel, in Botolan town, Zambales�change is a matter of survival.

Cristy, or Nanay Cristy to Barangay San Miguel's residents, has already had her fair share of disasters seared into her memory. In 1991, Mt. Pinatubo erupted, forcing her family to evacuate and resettle in the coastal lowlands. More recently, she and her children left their livestock to drown as they braved floodwaters when Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) struck in 2009.

Today, Cristy's family is one of many Aetas who relocated to Barangay San Miguel. Making a living as farmers, the community noticed their environment was changing, particularly after Ondoy. Rain was scarce and the soil became too dry for crops to grow.

The farming income of the Aetas are highly seasonal and vulnerable to typhoons, prolonged drought, and excessive rains. For them to survive, Cristy's family, like others in their community, look for temporary or part-time work in Botolan and its vicinity. Men work in other families' farms, while women turn to doing domestic work for other households.

Despite these challenges, the Balintay family has no intention of returning to Pinatubo. Aside from her hope of her children finishing their education, the family has already adapted to the town life. Mas gusto na namin dito. Kapag nagkasakit mga anak namin, may libreng gamot at ospital. Sa Baitan, ang layo namin, she says.

(We prefer to stay here. If ever our children are sick, we have access to free medicine and hospitalization. Baitan is far from the services.)

Finding balance

The ability of indigenous groups to adapt to climate change has become a rallying point for groups in the Philippines and around the world. Paragraph 135 of the decision adopting the Paris Agreement recognizes the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous Peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change, and establishes a platform for the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner.

The Zambales provincial government hopes to solve the issue by designing and implementing programs and strategies to transform coping capacity to a more long-term adaptive capacity in terms of disaster preparedness and climate change.

As part of its participation in the Strengthening the Capacities of Philippine Local Governments in Disaster Risk Reduction (SCPLG-DRR) project, the provincial government identified the indigenous population's adaptation as a main concern.

SCPLG-DRR, an initiative funded by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), aims to empower high risk, low capacity local governments to implement their chosen projects.

Silvestre Barrameda Jr., head of the Local Government Academy's (LGA) Institutional Partnership Unit, explains the wisdom behind the program. Beyond a concept, resilience is a mindset and a discipline whose time has come. In order for it to be fully understood and realized, it has to be given a human face. The function of governance is therefore to support local communities to prepare, adapt and transform from the effects of hazards. Shared accountability, co-ownership and innovation will be critical in all our efforts to uplift the lives of the Filipinos, especially those who are most at risk.

LGA, one of the attached agencies of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), is tasked, among others, to improve the capacities of local governments and its officials on different areas of governance.

Source: Department of the Interior and Local Government

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