Involve typhoon victims in their own recovery process, UN official says

Men hold an electric cable in one of the communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, where power has not been restored for months since the storm struck. Many families in hard-hit areas are still suffering the effects of the disaster. Photo by: Arie Kievit / ANP / Dutch for Cooperating Aid Organizations / CC BY-NC-SA

Despite considerable progress in rehabilitation and recovery efforts in the areas devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan, the real post-disaster picture one year after remains that of people still languishing and suffering from the long-lasting effects of the catastrophe.

A significant number of people in Tacloban, Tanauan and Palo — some of the hardest-hit areas in Leyte province — continue to live in makeshift shelters put together using scrap wood and metal. While livelihood programs from different international organizations and government agencies are in place, several families still subsist on meager incomes and sometimes on nothing at all.

This is why reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts moving forward should focus on the typhoon victims, who themselves should be involved in their own recovery process, according to Haoliang Xu, U.N. assistant secretary-general and U.N. Development Program Asia-Pacific director. As the recovery and rehabilitation process continues on a long-term basis, people’s inclusion will help them and the effectiveness and accountability of programs focused on their recovery.

“It is important to involve the people because it helps the recovery. I think everybody would agree that it is the people that should be the focus here,” Xu said during Monday’s press briefing to assess Haiyan rehabilitation efforts and ways forward, which Devex attended. “[Managing expectations and reporting directly to the beneficiaries] are, I think, very important, no doubt. People should know what help they will get and what lives they’ll have next. This is also to get more people to join the monitoring and evaluation.”

The U.N. official added that the effects of the disaster will only aggravate the kind of poverty that people have been experiencing prior, during and after the storm. But it has to be noted that all concerned stakeholders — government agencies, international groups, multilateral organizations and the private sector — should address poverty in a “multidimensional” way.

“It is important to recognize that poverty cannot only be measured by income. Poverty is a manifestation of deprivation of our lives. It is a lack of access to education, service, sanitation or water, among others,” he said, adding that about 30 percent of poverty reduction will come from a better social safety and protection system.

The need to remain focused on the welfare and plight of the typhoon-affected people is underscored by the palpable and somewhat uncomfortable rift between the national and local government. Since disaster struck, local government officials in affected areas have been criticizing the national government for its slow delivery of aid. National officials, meanwhile, have been firm in their stance that local officials are overlooking — and sometimes completely ignoring — protocols that need to be followed.

During the press briefing, rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson stressed the need for both sides to focus less on their grievances and more on what could be done to help typhoon victims recover and build resilience against future disasters.

“I kept saying before when I was appointed, it is either you’re in [on the recovery and rehabilitation plan] or you are in the way,” the presidential assistant on rehabilitation and recovery said, adding that coordination issues between agencies and stakeholders slowed down rehabilitation and recovery efforts, aggravating the situation of the typhoon victims even further.

Nonetheless, through efforts of different stakeholders, the past 12 months have seen legacy initiatives to assist in recovery efforts and to build resilience. These include an online foreign aid transparency hub called FAiTH, an accountability and transparency platform called eMPATHY to tag and update situations of rehabilitation programs, a multihazard mapping system, structural resiliency standards, and a one-stop shop to ease customs regulations on humanitarian cargo in times of disasters.

But Lacson admits that several challenges still remain. These include:

1. Stringent application of laws and regulations that slow down response, recovery and rehabilitation efforts.

2. Legal, policy and resource constraints.

3. Complex statutory processes for conducting a damage and loss assessment.

4. Logistical challenges, including delays in relief goods distribution.

5. Larger socio-cultural challenges, including local communities’ resistance to relocate and abide by the recovery and rehabilitation plans.

Super Typhoon Haiyan left a wake of devastation when it swept through the central Philippines on Nov. 8. How has the situation in the worst-hit provinces changed one year after? Stay tuned for more of Devex’s coverage, including on-the-ground interviews with aid workers, agency officials and typhoon victims.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.

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