Q and A: UNDP Regional director on Yolanda rehab
MANILA, Philippines – It has been a year since Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ravaged parts of the Philippines on November 8, 2013. While various efforts have been made by the government and civil society to answer the needs of the survivors, President Benigno Aquino III only approved the Yolanda rehabilitation plan on October 29.
The rehabilitation program for the typhoon survivors have a long way to go, although the Asian Development Bank said Yolanda rehabilitation programs were moving faster than when a tsunami and earthquake hit Aceh, Indonesia, in 2004.
Among the many international groups involved in rebuilding the lives of Yolanda survivors is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The main UN body tasked to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), UNDP has been doing recovery and rehabilitation work since Yolanda hit.
Its efforts include cash-for-work for debris clearing during the response phase, and livelihood stabilization and economic recovery in the recovery phase.
Haoliang Xu, Regional Director of the Asia Pacific Bureau of the UNDP, tells Rappler the challenges and gaps in the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected areas. Appointed in August 2013 by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Xu has worked as UNDP coordinator in many developing countries.
What were the biggest challenges UNDP faced in its Haiyan response?
For us, the biggest challenge was contributing only a small part of what is needed. If you look at debris clearance, for example, we spent quite a lot of resources – some $5-6 million – for this cash-for-work effort alone. From our point of view, we’ve done a lot. But compared to the total size of the destruction, what we did is really a small part. Yolanda rehabilitation requires the effort of everybody else. The challenge is to understand what we can and what we cannot do.
The second biggest challenge is resource mobilization. At UNDP, we used $10 million from our internal resources but again compared to the needs, it’s a drop of water in a bucket. The number of donors are limited. We know who contributed the largest amount of resources for this effort. Many implementing agencies, whether they have resources of their own or not, go to the same set of donors to request additional support.
How do you convince donors that your project is the one they should support? How do you compete constructively? We also needed to deliver; to prove our value on our resource mobilization.
Third, is to always try to focus on what we do best. Because there’s so many people working to support the Yolanda-affected areas, we needed to look at our competitive advantages. We focused on our competitive advantages like governance in supporting OPARR, for example. We focused on DRR efforts at the different levels, from disaster-resilient infrastructure and disaster-resilient governance practices to livelihood. We needed to differentiate ourselves from other actors so that we can use our resources more effectively.
Are there gaps in the Yolanda rehabilitation? Are there some aspects that we are overlooking?
When we visited the Yolanda-affected localities, everybody from the mayors to the ordinary people were asking for two things – shelter and livelihood activities. That means their basic needs have been met, most likely. What they are looking for is a sustainable future. (READ: Yolanda a year after: Only 2% to be built by Nov 8)
We heard from the government that they are committed to completing recovery in these aspects. They gave a very specific account of what they will build. This answers the question of how to measure the success of the Yolanda rehabilitation plan.
Our international experience shows that infrastructures, normally, get done faster. That’s concrete and clear. The software part like livelihood lag behind. That’s why we need periodical reviews to identify other gaps. You have to have this system where all projects will be updated and recorded. By analyzing this information, you’ll see the gaps you need to address.
What is your assessment of the Philippine government’s response to Haiyan compared to other major disasters that hit the region?
I think comparison is difficult and may not be reasonable because the countries and disasters are different. The political systems and their capacities are also different.
But in this morning’s policy forum, Secretary Panfilo Lacson gave some examples of how different countries responded to major disasters and how much time it took. According to that, the Philippines is actually doing very well. Also, I always try to look at it in this perspective – this typhoon is the strongest recorded to make landfall, with 320 kilometers per hour (kph). Katrina that hit New Orleans was only 200kph, Sandy that caused a lot of havoc in New York had 130 kph top speed. So if you imagine the scale of this disaster, it is really incomparable.
Was there something we could’ve done to reduce the impact, and prevent the kind of loss we experienced?
Yes. But that is a question of building resilience. Building resilience has many facets. In terms of infrastructure, for example, the government now is considering different types of infrastructure including dikes and sea walls to prevent the impact of storm surge. But infrastructure alone is not sufficient. You need a “software” as well. What are softwares? It’s simply community awareness about disaster risk reduction (DRR). You need to have early warning systems. You need to have trainings so people are aware on what they need to do when disasters come, knowing evacuation routes, for example. You need to have search and rescue capacity in the local level, so they can respond immediately. These are also important. It’s not hardware but it’s critically important software to build capacity and systems.
Another way of building resilience is to invest in social services and social protection. For the poor population who are at a disadvantage in normal times, they would face even more challenges when disasters strike. Supporting them and other disadvantaged groups is always a challenge. One way to deal with it is to increase the level of social services, education, and health care. This helps them deal with the shocks. If they don’t have income, they basically rely on the government system for essential support.
Resilience and awareness is not just about the infrastructure. It takes a lot of effort to build people’s capacity. (READ: Recovering from Yolanda: Gains, missed chances, opportunities)
Being one of the most, if not the most, vulnerable regions to disasters, what is the role of Southeast Asian countries in climate action and disaster mitigation in the context of creating a global consensus on climate action?
Many ASEAN countries have power problems. The power supply is unreliable. That means many countries need to increase their generation capacity. From what sources do you generate this capacity? Many countries have big potential in renewable energy. They should study how to combine different renewable energy sources. I think this is what ASEAN countries need to look at and promote.
For other countries in the region, their carbon emission and per capita is very low. But the potential economic growth is very huge. Many countries are just taking off. That means the carbon emissions will increase. What strategies must they adopt? Should they say, “I need to develop and have more carbon emissions,” or say, “I can develop and try to stop the growth of carbon emissions by investing in greener technology”?
There are choices governments can make and everyone can make a contribution to the climate change agenda. There’s a lot of potential. Responding to climate change presents opportunities of growth that forces people to invest in greener economies and renewable energy. – Rappler.com