IAPS Dialogue: The online magazine of the Institute of Asia & Pacific Studies

Climate Change Mitigation Strategies after Yolanda: The Importance of Community Participation

Written by May Tan-Mullins.

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of climate change. Scientists have noted an increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, like the super-typhoon Yolanda (otherwise known as Haiyan) that hit the Visayas region of the Philippines on 8th November 2013. More than 6,300 lives were lost, and homes, livelihoods and entire communities were devastated. Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in these post disaster rebuilding contexts remains a huge challenge to governments. While all adaptation projects are well-intended, the outcomes at times may not be positive for the environment and certain stakeholder groups, due to the inability to fully comprehend the long term effects of human action on the ecosystems. In the process of rebuilding through these mitigation strategies, as decisions are made within a political, social, cultural structure, at times further entrenched marginalised stakeholders act outside the beneficial realms of these adaptation strategies. This resulted in what we call the maladaptation outcomes of climate change policies.

This project demonstrates how a well-intended climate change adaptation strategy has faltered

In the case of the Philippines, rebuilding and reconstruction choices involves numerous processes and stakeholders, in deciding the adaptation pathways (such as grey or blue-green adaptation strategies) and subsequently the outcomes and distribution of benefits among the various stakeholders. A good example to illustrate the complexity of climate change adaptation/ mitigation strategies and subsequent maladaptation outcomes is the attempt to build a seawall in Leyte (grey adaptation strategy). A year after typhoon Yolanda, the local government, together with support from the Japanese government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, proposed to build a sea wall along the Tacloban-Palo-Tanuan seafront. The Department of Public Works and Highway says the 7.9 billion peso road heightening and tide embankment project promises to protect Yolanda-affected areas in these three municipals from future calamities such as storm surge. The overall conceptual plan is to build a 27.3 kilometre tidal embankment with a height of around 4.5 meters. Its centre line is set to stand 30 meters from the seashore, and the project is aimed to be completed by 2020.

However, local politicians, NGOs and residents consider the project a threat to thousands of residents in the area, as they might lose their homes and livelihoods. Tacloban ex-mayor Alfred Romualdez indicated on 9th November 2015 that there is no sufficient data to prove the embankment could effectively protect coastline communities from storm surges. Local fishermen and environmental groups have also spoken out against the ‘great wall of Leyte’. This is because in Tacloban itself 10,000 coastal households will face eviction to make place for this wall. The issue of housing was further complicated by the slow construction of new settlements in Tacloban. The seawall will also alter the ecosystem and ecology in the coastal area and affect the ecosystem’s services provided by the coastal sea to these three municipals.

The embankment project further prevents small-fishermen and other coastal communities from continuing their livelihoods. This is especially in fishing, as the area will be out of bounds to local communities. However, the local NGO, People Surge, found that big private companies, such as the Oriental Leyte will not be excluded from the area. Last but not least, the local communities and stakeholders were not consulted regarding the development of the project, especially the coastal communities whose livelihoods are dependent on access to the sea. Due to the dissent and protest against this project, further studies and consultation processes were conducted in 2015 and 2016 to include public participation in the process. On 26th October 2016, the Department of Public Works and Highways announced the construction of the embankment will proceed after some design changes. The department officials announced the project indicating that the issues and concerns raised by affected communities of the project have been resolved.  In 2017, the project received 700 million peso to start construction in the coastal villages around the Palo and Tanuan municipalities.

This project demonstrates how a well-intended climate change adaptation strategy has faltered in terms of the equitable distribution of benefits for certain stakeholders. Fishermen and coastal communities tend to be of lower income households, with less resources to rebuild their livelihoods in a post disaster context. Many of them are living in low lying coastal areas that are in the direct path of regular typhoons. These communities are still undergoing rehabilitation and rebuilding three years after Yolanda. A lack of sustainable livelihood, inadequate and unsafe housing, the inadequate provision of utilities such as water and electricity and incomplete infrastructure such as roads and drainage in the resettlement areas continue to threaten their human security. The capacity to protect themselves, their families and communities from future disasters and day-to-day safety issues remains tenuous in many cases. The seawall further increases their vulnerability in the post disaster context. In summary, this example demonstrates why we need to ask who truly benefits from such projects, and who can stand to lose now or in the future.

May Tan-Mullins is Professor in International Relations, the Dean of Graduate School and the Director of the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies on the Universitv of Nottingham’s Ningbo campus. She is also the series editor of Palgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies. May joined the University of Nottingham Ningbo China in 2009 as an Assistant Professor and was promoted to full professor in 2015. She is also a recipient of the esteemed Vice-Chancellor Medal and Lord Dearing Excellent Teaching Award. Her research interests are the political ecology of rising China, environmental and energy justice, poverty alleviation and building resilience for the poorest and most vulnerable. This article forms part of the IAPS Dialogue edition entitled “State and Society in the Philippines.” Image Credit: Flickr/ Matthew Herradura