After Yolanda: The straight road to recovery

'Politics contributes and continues to affect the recovery in Leyte and Samar but it would be a serious mistake if we simplify those failures through a distorted analysis based on blame'

 Six months after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the country, we continue to confront the consequences of our failure to respond effectively in the first 48 hours of the disaster. In fact, it took another week or two before we were able to get our act together and only barely so. This failure, caused principally by institutional gaps resulting in a clear lack of command and leadership in times of massive disasters, haunts our efforts at recovery and rehabilitation up to now.

The aftermath of Yolanda/Haiyan should not be compared to the success in Bohol of reconstruction after the October 15, 2014 earthquake. There, the national government agencies were on the ground a few hours after the disaster. In Bohol, the local governments were not crippled by casualties in their ranks or by a complete breakdown of transportation and communication links. Politics, of course, contributed and continues to affect the recovery in Leyte and Samar but this is secondary, and it would be a serious mistake if we simplify those failures through a distorted analysis based on blame.

In the response to Yolanda/Haiyan, the overall support of international aid agencies and donor countries, national citizen organizations and community based organizations has been encouraging and helpful to the government. We have also seen how the private sector stepped up and conducted relief operations and distributed goods to respond to the immediate needs of survivors in the aftermath of the typhoon.

Assessing the needs

Through a Memorandum Order, the Office of the Presidential Assistant on Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) was created last December to oversee and coordinate rehabilitation efforts for Typhoon Yolanda areas. As part of its mandate, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) released the Rehabilitation Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) before Christmas last year. However, the government was quick to admit that a “RAY 2.0” is needed because the RAY failed to account for the results of the post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) which National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council should have come up with immediately after Typhoon Yolanda.

For example, millions of coconut trees were felled and thousands of fishing boats were destroyed because of Yolanda. This puts the livelihood and food security of coconut farmers and fishers in the Eastern Visayas at risk. The government has enforced a policy to ensure that tenant coconut farmers receive 75% of the profits from coco-lumber sales while the owners get 25%. However, coconut clearing must be urgently done to allow the replanting of crops soon.  

Through the initiatives of the government, citizen organizations and international NGOs, many boats have been replaced and repaired. However, the rehabilitation of the fishing industry must also include other efforts such as aquaculture like seaweed farming, restoration of near-shore fisheries and marine ecosystems to ensure that fish stocks are replenished.

A few weeks ago, there was talk about enforcing a uniform 40-meter set-back and no-build zone. From the beginning, this was a foolish idea without any scientific and legal basis. We hope this has been abandoned and that place-to-place land use measures are developed (in consultation with affected stakeholders), adopted, and implemented.

New developments in the NDRRMC

The reported resignation of Undersecretary Eduardo del Rosario last week as executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and concurrent chair of the Office of Civil Defense can be an indication of how daunting this task is. Furthermore, it can also be an indication of how NDRRMC was sidelined with the creation of OPARR in December.  

If it is true, however, that Del Rosario’s replacement will be retired Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, a former Navy chief and currently the executive director of the National Coast Watch, then this augurs well for the NDRRMC and for our overall preparedness for disasters. Admiral Pama is well known for his competence, integrity, and his strategic vision and skills. But while we can expect improvement in our capacity to respond to disasters with his appointment, the creation of a new, stand-alone disaster and emergency office is still imperative. The design of the NDRRMC, which is a coordination body with very little power and budget, destines it to be a failure. Even a great leader like Admiral Pama will face insurmountable obstacles for the achievement of its mission.

The truth is that strong leadership from the government is needed to deliver the necessary support to affected areas. This cannot be solely in the hands of an agency under a department. As shown in the experience in Yolanda, an independent, stand-alone agency is needed to oversee preparedness, response, rehabilitation and recovery for disasters.    

Inclusive and rights-based relocation process  

International developmental organization Oxfam recently released a briefing paper titled, “The right move? Ensuring durable relocation after Haiyan.” The Oxfam report looked into the government’s relocation process in the aftermath of Yolanda by conducting surveys among 453 people (243 women and 210 men), organizing 14 focus-group discussions, and interviewing more than 30 key informants  in the provinces of Cebu, Eastern Samar, and Leyte (in the cities and municipalities of Daan Bantayan, Guiuan, Hernani, Madridejos, Ormoc, Tacloban, and Tanauan). It sought to look into the concerns of the affected communities in post-Yolanda relocation processes.

Almost half of the people surveyed said that earning income through their current or new job is the most important thing to consider in relocation. Safety from disaster hazards comes next, with 32% saying it is their highest priority, followed by 12.8% who said that availability of basic services (water, electricity, education and health) is their priority. What is alarming in the Oxfam findings is that only 7% of people said they were consulted or informed about resettlement plans by any government official.

In the town of Hernani in Eastern Samar, one of the women who were interviewed by Oxfam named Lucena Antipolo, admitted typhoon survivors were not properly consulted about the government’s relocation plan. She also said it’s important for government to assure them they will own the land where they will transfer to. If tenurial security is not guaranteed, people like Lucena will have no choice but to go back to their lands which they own and rebuild their houses there – even if the area is hazard-prone. 

The story of Lucena is just the tip of the iceberg in the uncertainties surrounding the government’s relocation process. The Oxfam report also revealed that 81% didn’t know their rights around relocation and one-third of people surveyed said they were just accepting relocation because they felt they have no choice.

The government needs to pursue a rights-based approach in resettlement. For a relocation plan to be successful, the government needs to talk to the people to understand what their needs and priorities are. Conducting consultations is crucial for the government to hear the voices of the people and know about their priorities.

Relocation is not just about moving communities to new locations and building houses for them. It needs to have a holistic perspective by considering other factors like access to livelihood (i.e. the 40-meter no-build zone), tenurial rights, safety, transportation, water and sanitation, and basic services. Furthermore, relocation must also consider geo-hazard maps and proper land use planning.     

As part of its recommendation, the Oxfam report is proposing that the national government provide policy guidelines to local authorities on: compensation for land or house owners in “unsafe” areas, tenure security in permanent relocation sites, and a selection criteria for people to relocation; provide funds with strong transparency and accountability mechanisms to local authorities so that they can complete the relocation process; lead in determining the “safe” and “unsafe” zones through the Mines and Geo Sciences Bureau (MGB) and the production of more detailed geo-hazard maps.

While the national government provides the financial resources, international aid organizations must provide the technical capacities to local governments in building settlements that are at par with national and international humanitarian standards.

The Oxfam briefing paper is also calling for the passage of the national land use bill in the 16th Congress. To complement this, local governments must update or adopt local land use plans incorporating hazard and vulnerability mapping. 

For local government units, the Oxfam report is urging them to ensure proper relocation process by conducting information campaigns towards affected communities and organizing dialogues. National and local citizens’ organizations can help in this process by empowering affected communities to learn and invoke their rights in the whole settlement process.

200,000 Typhoon Yolanda survivors are now targeted for relocation based on the pronouncements of Secretary Lacson in newspaper reports. However, if they are not given a chance to voice out their needs and participate in the planning, then relocation efforts are likely to fail and push survivors deeper into poverty and vulnerability. Incorporating livelihood with resettlement plans is the key to alleviate poverty in these areas which account for 40% of the 14 million people affected. As it is, they were already behind social and human development long before Typhoon Yolanda happened.

Towards long-term recovery  

The next 6 months are crucial for Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation and recovery. The next typhoon season is about to begin next month. Typhoon-prone areas like Eastern Samar and Leyte will surely be hit by typhoons and storm surges once again. While it is leading the long-term recovery for these areas, the government must also be preparing the communities for any kind of disaster. The recent report of the International Office for Migration (IOM) said that only 8% of Eastern Samar’s evacuation centers are usable. The government needs to prioritize the rebuilding of evacuation centers and putting early warning systems in place.

The final draft of RAY 2.0 is due on June 30 and is set to cost P106 billion. While lack of funds seemed not an issue, there is the concern that disbursement of resources is too slow which is bogged down by bureaucracy. The release of funds and allocation of resources to local government units must be based on the needs of the communities. 

In drafting this plan, the government must ensure that “building back better” principles will be followed because if not, government could potentially be “building back worse.” A revised rehabilitation plan must take into account the needs of the poorest communities, especially farmers and fishers, the immediacy of rebuilding resilient homes in safe zones, and it must ensure that the people become adaptive and resilient against future disasters.

On a wider scale, the government must review existing structures and institutional mechanisms that will help people to prepare for impacts of future disasters. These include the sunset review of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 which we hope would lead to the government investing more resources into fully implementing its disaster response and management policies, as well as ensuring that its humanitarian and emergency mechanisms can surpass any large-scale emergencies.

The problem of having too many actors involved in the NDRRMC proved to be problematic. We reiterate our call that a separate disaster risk reduction and management agency must be created to replace the current set-up to fully institutionalize the law.  

The President must immediately sign the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the People’s Survival Fund. This will lead to its operationalization which will provide access to communities which are bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change.

The government, through the OPARR, must effectively lead and be on top of the recovery process with the support of other duty bearers and actors. Alongside this, policy implementations and strengthening of institutional mechanisms must be done.

The Aquino government is on its last two years. It will be a good legacy of this administration to successfully rehabilitate the lives and livelihood of Typhoon Yolanda survivors while leaving a government and people more prepared to face and withstand any disaster – both natural and man-made – beyond its term limits.

Six months after Yolanda/Haiyan, we are not yet there. We cannot even rightfully claim that we are on the right road. But there is a way forward. A government that prides itself in walking the “daang matuwid,” the straight road to governance, should know that road. Let’s all walk 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 finishing his Masters in Public Management (MPM) degree at the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG).