One year after Haiyan: Reflections on Tacloban

One year after Haiyan: Reflections on Tacloban.

A year after Haiyan — one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded — devastated parts of the Philippines, a couple members of my Devex team and I traveled to Tacloban City in Leyte, a province in central Philippines to talk to aid workers and government officials and assess the overall situation on the ground.

If you ever question the purpose and impact of the international humanitarian and development community, I encourage you to take a trip down to the central Philippines. (But if that’s not possible, please at least view our video to give you an idea.)

Numbers alone tell a remarkable story: 3.7 million people reached with food assistance, 1.4 million people received some form of cash transfer, 1.9 million people benefitted from hygiene kits, and 2.3 million children vaccinated. The majority of these programs funded by international donors and many implemented by international organizations.

Indeed, international nongovernmental organizations handled much of the work load. Their presence and activity over the course of the last year is signified by their logoed tarpaulins which dot the landscape and have protected the vulnerable from the infamous Philippine rainy season and the pedicabs — a cycle rickshaw — and fishing boats which provide promise that livelihood can be restored in the aftermath of this disaster.

To hear their perspective, we organized a roundtable discussion with representatives from three of the most prominent iNGOs — World Vision, Save the Children and ChildFund — all of whom have been working in difficult conditions for the majority of the last year. They painted a realistic, but upbeat picture of what the future holds for the region, admitting that they’ll likely still be around during the second and third Haiyan anniversaries.

We also touched base with Kasper Engborg, the head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Tacloban who has been about as close as anyone to the global humanitarian response. This is not the first humanitarian crisis Mr. Engborg has worked and won’t be his last, but he’s openly amazed that OCHA will handover coordination for the recovery around the end of the year, and attributes his agency’s faster-than-expected departure to the resilience and determination of communities to get back on their feet.

And we sat down with local officials such as Mayor Pel Tecson of Tanauan municipality in Leyte which was absolutely ravaged by Haiyan, but shared his community’s experience before, during and after the storm, and how his government handled the near unprecedented influx of international assistance.

In its final periodic monitoring report, OCHA cites repair or reconstruction of evacuation centers and classrooms, sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services, and pursuit of durable solutions or permanent shelter and longer-term sustained livelihood interventions among the Philippine government’s major challenges as local actors assume increasing control over the longer-term rehabilitation effort.

But there are serious questions over whether or not the Philippine government is up for the challenge as international groups begin to pull out. In an exclusive opinion piece for Devex, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, acknowledged a tough road ahead amid more complex Philippine local governance issues perpetuated by what he calls a “concomitant bureaucracy.”

“Being given the big responsibility of rehabilitating 171 cities and municipalities with very limited power and authority is a sure formula for failure,” noted Lacson.

But failure is not an option and the people I met in Leyte aren’t even considering it. Those tarpaulins will be etched in my mind forever. It’s tough for me to imagine what Tacloban would look like without them.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Pete Troilo

    Former director of global advisory and analysis, Pete managed all Devex research and analysis operations worldwide and monitors key trends in the global development business. Prior to joining Devex, Pete was a political and security risk consultant with a focus on Southeast Asia. He has also advised the U.S. government on foreign policy and led projects for the Asian Development Bank and International Finance Corp. He still consults for Devex on a project basis.

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