Recovering from Yolanda: Gains, missed chances, opportunities
A year ago, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated Eastern Visayas and nearby areas, leaving thousands of people dead (the exact number we will never know) and millions of people affected whose homes were destroyed and livelihoods imperiled. It was considered as the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines packing a wind speed of 295 kph.
From the first day of the response, the international community came in with financial and operational support. International and humanitarian organizations worked from Day 1 of the typhoon in various affected areas. In less than 24 hours after the typhoon hit Eastern Visayas, these aid agencies sent out rapid assessment teams which looked into various lifesaving issues and interventions which needed to be carried out.
Similarly, the private sector was not amiss in its effort to help in rebuilding efforts for Yolanda-affected areas with corporate organizations conducting their own disaster relief efforts. In the early months of the response, corporate donors also “adopted” Yolanda-affected areas under the supervision of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR).
National government agencies and local governments, doing the best that they could under the circumstances, should also be credited for their response to Yolanda. Immediately after, the government was bogged down by difficulty in having access to affected areas and the uncoordinated and slow pace of lifesaving response to affected communities. The magnitude of the typhoon overwhelmed everyone’s capacity to respond to disasters. Yolanda also exposed a fractured bureaucracy with no clear and unified command and control system. As we have written before, until we create and put in place an independent national disaster agency, we will never be able to cope well with massive disasters.
A year after: a snapshot
After almost a year, the OPARR finished its Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) for Yolanda and turned it over to the President on August 1. The 8,000-page masterplan incorporates the post-disaster needs assessment conducted by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in Yolanda-affected areas, rehabilitation plans of the affected local government units, and the plans of the 5 government-led recovery clusters: resettlement, livelihoods, social services, infrastructure, and support.
It should be noted that the United Nations categorized Typhoon Yolanda as a Level 3 emergency under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Transformative Agenda protocols. At the early stages of the response, the role of the UN was to lend a hand to the Philippine government. The UN Strategic Response Plan which was released a month after Typhoon Yolanda was designed to complement the government’s Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) released on December 18, 2013.
To expect a swift recovery may be too much to ask from the national government since a disaster as massive as Yolanda would take more years before people can finally recover. The tsunami in Aceh in 2004, for example, took 8 years before the Indonesian government was able to rebuild the tsunami-devastated areas.
Earlier this week, the Asian Development Bank opined that they expect the reconstruction phase to take 4 to 5 years for the affected areas, while it “acknowledges that close to one year, the Philippine government is caught between reconstruction and recovery."
In the aftermath of the response, the Philippine government had also emphasized the need for transparency and accountability in terms of donor funds and opened the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub or FAiTH. The FAITH hub is a welcome initiative but it needs to be more comprehensive and detailed. During the last few months, the nagging question of concerned local government units and communities is how to avail of it.
Coconut farmers, fishers and relocation issues
More than 33 million coconut trees were destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda, affecting one million farming households according to the Philippine Coconut Authority. On the other hand, the Department of Agriculture estimated that 202,410 fishing households were affected in Central Visayas and Northern Palawan. It would take 6 to 8 years before coconut trees can be fully productive.
Coconut farmers are still grappling with the slow pace of clearance of coconut debris and coconut pest infestation. In the early months of the response, chainsaws were provided to affected coconut farmers for them to process these felled coconut trees.
Fisherfolk communities were given support by the government, citizen organizations, and the private sector in boat repairs and new fishing gears. However, fishers are still facing declining catch after the typhoon damaged fishing grounds and the marine ecosystem.
A 40-meter no-build zone guideline was issued last March by OPARR. The agency later backtracked on this policy after critics pointed out that this policy does not consider the livelihood and geo-hazards in different areas. OPARR later committed to a Joint Memorandum Order together with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Science and Technology, and the Department of National Defense on safe, unsafe, and controlled zones but this has not been issued yet.
A year after, 205,000 survivors are still living in makeshift tents and are waiting to be relocated into safer and more resilient houses guaranteeing access to livelihood and basic services like water and education for children, and secured land rights. As of October, no less than HUDCC Undersecretary and Resettlement Cluster lead Cecilia Alba admitted that only 452 new homes had been set up in Yolanda-affected areas.
Getting recovery right one year after
On November 6, international organization Oxfam released a one-year briefing paper assessing the government and other stakeholders in Typhoon Yolanda long-term recovery work. Entitled, “In the shadows of the storm: Getting recovery right one year on after typhoon Haiyan,” it presents a comprehensive analysis of the Typhoon Haiyan recovery one year after highlighting key issues faced by the national government and stakeholders in the long-term recovery phase. These include livelihood, resettlement, disaster risk reduction governance gaps, among others.
As part of its recommendation, Oxfam is urging the national government, LGUs, international donors, and national and local citizen organizations to comprehensively address remaining humanitarian needs, while delivering a technically-sound recovery plan based on the needs of the affected communities; address gaps identified in implementation of DRRM law, especially at the level of LGUs (the first responders to a disaster); and a streamlined well-coordinated implementation of the recovery plan where voices of the communities are heard and an effective space is open for citizen organizations.
Including the poorest and most vulnerable sectors
Indeed, poverty and vulnerability go hand-in-hand. Our Typhoon Yolanda experience clearly indicates that those who are mired in poverty are the most vulnerable to disaster risks. Long before Typhoon Yolanda hit the country, Eastern Visayas had been the country’s third poorest region with the highest income inequality. In 2006, for example, it was the 7th poorest, with 41.5% of people in poverty. In 2012, its poverty incidence rose to 45.2%.
Underinvestment in agriculture has pushed farmers and fisherfolk – who comprise the majority of Eastern Visayas – into the poverty trap. Lack of tenurial security due to a weak implementation of agrarian reform further threatens farming and fishing communities in the region. After Typhoon Yolanda, poverty incidence in Eastern Visayas rose to 55%. This chronic and systemic nature of poverty and inequality further compounds people’s vulnerabilities to disasters. More than the loss of lives and damage to livelihood, poor communities’ coping mechanisms are put to a test as they plunge further into debt due to lack of social services and tenurial security.
Post-Yolanda, the government must ensure that vulnerable groups such as women, the elderly, children, and people with disabilities (PWDs) are included in the process of crafting local development plans incorporating disaster risks and hazards, as well as measures to adapt to the impact of climate change.
Resilience: risk reduction and climate adaptation
An Oxfam report released on November 8, 2014 entitled, “Can’t Afford to Wait," has revealed that the lack of priority and emphasis is given to DRR mechanisms across Asia, considering that the countries in the region are considered more vulnerable to disasters caused by climate change. In this report, Oxfam analyzed the DRR-CCA policies in all 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 4 member-states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) regions, respectively. The report further revealed that Asian governments have low investments in agricultural plans which undermine their resilience to impacts of climate change.
At the national level, the government must ensure that the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 will be a springboard for increasing communities’ preparedness that will lead them to become more resilient. The ongoing sunset review of the law must ensure community and civil society participation, and that their voices are heard in this mechanism. The national government must learn from the lessons of the last 5 years since the implementation of the DRRM law.
The national and local government must take a rights-based approach in tackling poverty and inequality by incorporating and integrating climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management measures anchored on sustainable development.
The national government must ensure disaster preparedness and contingency plans and local land use plans are in place and updated based on scientific geo-hazard maps. It must also fast-track the establishment of Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices (LDRRMO) and prioritize capacity-building of these disaster management offices at various levels. Local development plans must likewise take into consideration risks and the “new normal” such as disasters of wide magnitude like Typhoon Yolanda.
Furthermore, the lessons learned from Yolanda response in terms of disaster management and governance mechanisms in the Philippines must be taken seriously and incorporated into the global agreement on disaster risk reduction called the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) which signatory countries are scheduled to update next year in Japan.
Alongside this, the President must also ensure that climate finance adaptation mechanisms are open and accessible, especially to municipalities highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Sustainable and resilient livelihoods are at the core of this. The President should immediately sign the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the People’s Survival Fund Act which remains unsigned more than a year after it was submitted to him for approval.
No amount of readiness can prepare any government with a massive typhoon like Yolanda. A year after Yolanda, the President and concerned Cabinet officials and agencies must show strong leadership in the long-term recovery work in these areas. At the end of his term, the President should have ensured that the lives of these Yolanda survivors have been rebuilt and that they, along with the rest of the country, are now more resilient to face any kind of disasters – human induced or climate-related.
One positive development is the appointment of former Navy chief Alexander Pama as Administrator of the Office Civil Defense, the secretariat and backbone of the NDRRMC. Undersecretary Pama is not just a competent and professional soldier, he is also a visionary leader with well-honed strategic skills.
Though when he was appointed, we said then that he was inheriting a system that was designed to fail, we are convinced that he knows what needs to be done to reform the system and make it more effective. Listening to Pama deliver the Jaime V. Ongpin lecture earlier this week at the Rockwell campus of Ateneo de Manila University assured us that not only are we better prepared for the next disaster, but that our government also now has an acute awareness of the medium- and long-term steps we need to take to reduce disaster risks.
In the next year, let's consolidate the gains, not miss chances, and realize all the opportunities for recovery. Our countrymen in the Visayas deserve that. – Rappler.com
Follow Dean Tony La Viña on Facebook and on Twitter via @tonylavs. Jed Alegado is Oxfam’s Media & Communications Officer. He is currently completing his Masters in Public Management (MPM) degree at the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG).