Written by May Tan-Mullins & Joy Spiliopoulos.

In recent months, a number of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons and floods, have devastated areas around the world, with reports of severely-affected communities in central and North America as well as Southeast Asia becoming commonplace. Loss of lives, livelihoods, infrastructure, food and energy supplies questions the preparedness and resilience of communities in an ever-changing climate. Rebuilding affected areas is not only lengthy and challenging, but also costly. The example of the devastation that super typhoon Haiyan brought and the efforts made in rebuilding the East Visayas area and helping the communities to become more resilient provides important insights and lessons for humanitarian and development efforts in other areas.

When planning pre and post-disaster management and rebuilding/recovery, women’s needs also need to be taken into consideration, as women and children are particularly vulnerable in disaster-affected areas.

Super typhoon Haiyan struck the Visayas Islands in the Philippines on 8 November 2013, displacing 4.4 million people and destroying more than 1 million houses. The total number of people affected by the typhoon, in terms of their livelihood, environmental and food security, was approximately 16 million while the tragic loss of lives is estimated at more than 6,193 individuals, with 1,061 individuals going missing and 28,689 being injured. The brunt of typhoon Haiyan was felt by some of the poorest communities in the Philippines. Some of the challenges still affecting the communities in Leyte are housing, livelihood and employment, provision of utilities and infrastructure such as roads and drainage, especially at the relocation sites, and governance and disaster risk reduction (DRR) at a local level. The efforts made by local and national governments, communities and INGOs illustrate important aspects of the rebuilding and resilience processes.

Communities play a very important role in Filipino culture and need to play a central role in any rebuilding and resilience programme. In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, international non-governmental organisations poured resources into the area. However, some of the initiatives were more successful than others, with lack of coordination between INGOs and local communities as well as tensions with local authorities in aid relief leading to confusion and wastage of resources.   At the same time, the relocation sites in northern mountainous areas, although offering protection from storm surges, were only partly successful due to the slow process of building new housing, insufficient infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies and drainage systems.  Rehousing efforts were made even more challenging when the livelihoods of fisherfolk were threatened because of the distance between the sites and the shoreline. Some of the success stories were community projects that focused on local needs, such as boat building, weaving and community farming and also housing projects where local people were involved in the building process.

In terms of ensuring continued livelihoods, the majority of financial and other support came from INGOs, then from the national government and finally from local government.  In some cases, local residents did not receive any external help but relied on their own/family resources to help re-establish their livelihood.  Apart from agriculture and fisheries, micro-enterprises, such as a “sari-sari” or small variety store, small canteen, tailoring and barbershop, were seen as viable options.  Adequate knowledge is not sufficient in managing these businesses, financial support and training in financial management and marketing is lacking in many cases.  While some of the INGOs, such as UNDP, Plan International and Save the Children, provided expertise and know-how in financial management, marketing and making business plans successful operations, ongoing support from the local government and business/educational sectors is crucial at this stage of recovery and rebuilding.

Governance at the local level plays a significant role in disaster response. The Philippines has an established set of policies, frameworks and plans for disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM). However, main responsibility lies with local government units (LGUs) because of the decentralized nature of the Philippine government.  The understaffing and lack of professionalism that characterizes some of the local DRRMCs creates particular challenges, especially when there is a lack of DRRM plans and adequate budget for a number of local communities. A significant gap also exists as the NDRRMC cannot supervise all the local councils, with problems of coordination existing among various levels of government.  Under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (PDRRMA), the LGUs are granted more detailed and disaster-specific roles.  More focus however is needed on pre-disaster preparation.  Additionally, PDRRMA does not only deal with disaster management. Other areas such as climate change, poverty reduction, and sustainable development fall into its remit.  It is evident, therefore, that political leadership is crucial in response to disaster situations.

When planning pre and post-disaster management and rebuilding/recovery, women’s needs also need to be taken into consideration, as women and children are particularly vulnerable in disaster-affected areas.  Education and training needs, support with care responsibilities, and any additional health problems such as disabilities, all need to be taken into account.  Projects which targeted women in the communities, for example rice production, cocoa production and start-up businesses such as bakeries, were appealing to women who wanted to contribute to household income and gain skills and independence.  With the withdrawing of INGOs from the area, micro-finance schemes are gaining in popularity, with women most frequently being the recipients of such schemes, in some cases because of ‘stereotypical’ assumptions that women are more responsible than men or that women should avail themselves of such services. Depending on the providers, these can be beneficial in providing emotional support, knowledge exchange and the necessary skills but can also be ‘poverty traps’ in the case of ‘rogue’ providers who impose high returns for lending and even demand direct access to clients’ bank accounts.

The successful examples and responses in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan and unresolved challenges point towards important lessons in rebuilding communities and ensuring better preparedness in the face of devastating disasters, such as a timely and bottom up political response, coordination between actors in delivering aid and valuable resources and working closely with communities while also acknowledging the diversity and needs of particular groups.  Such efforts can only help speed up the rebuilding and resilience processes, much needed in the face of more frequent and major natural disasters.

May Tan-Mullins is Professor in International Relations, the Dean of Graduate School and the Director of Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. Joy Spiliopoulos is Research Fellow for IAPS China and Teaching Fellow for the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. This article forms part of the IAPS Dialogue edition entitled ‘Yolanda: Building Back Better,’ run in conjunction with the ESRC/DFID ‘Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research’ project entitled Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. All images belong to the author unless otherwise stated. 

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