Philippine typhoon response: Assignments by country or cluster?

A mother carries her child beside their destroyed house in Tanauan, Leyte. There is more than enough relief goods to go around, but distributing the boxes of goods to the survivors in far-flung areas has been a glaring issue. Photo by: UNHCR/ R. Rocamora / CC BY-NC

Almost two weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, survivors in far-flung communities are still waiting for relief goods to reach their hands, something government officials are now looking to address by assigning specific areas to international donors, per country.

This contrasts with the cluster system for aid coordination followed by United Nations agencies under the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Relief distribution coverage has been a glaring issue in the relief operations both in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and after the emergency phase was over. But according to the Philippine military, the new system will help reach those in need that have missed out on much of the aid distribution efforts so far.

“We assigned different areas [of relief] because we don’t want to have a scenario where there is a place that is underserved, overserved and a place that is not given assistance at all,” Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Visayas region, told Devex. “That’s the coherent approach to these [operations].”

Local officials from Aklan and neighboring localities in Leyte that were asking desperately for help just days after the catastrophe lament they are pretty much in the same situation 12 days later.

Deveraturda admitted that scores of families and communities are still unreachable due to damaged transportation and communication lines, and the whole relief response and recovery operation is just starting and will take a while to pick up. The focus now is not only to provide people with life-saving aid, but to really heal the wounds, for which a comprehensive and long-term plan is needed.

Reaching further, helping more

Designating tasks and specialization is not new in disaster risk response and management The United Nations have their own cluster system, which they are using in the typhoon relief efforts under OCHA’s leadership. The system assigns several U.N. agencies their own relief focus by sector or cluster to avoid duplication and delay in aid distribution.

Will the new country assignments conflict with the clusters? No, as both will complement each other and make relief efforts more far-reaching and comprehensive, said UNICEF disaster risk reduction and emergency specialist Nonoy Fajardo.

“I think what the government is trying to do is to spread out the assistance because initially, in the first few days, everybody was converging in Tacloban and it’s not just Tacloban that is affected,” Fajardo told Devex. “[It is] to reach more people and concentrate more on the cities that are not so much covered by relief. There are still a lot of areas that are not reached by help.”

Until now, the country assignments had only been evident in medical operations and healthcare through the immediate response from the nations involved in the efforts, on top of the distribution of life-saving kits (food, water, shelter and medicine). Deveraturda pointed out how, several medical teams from different nations — among them Tagalog-speaking Japanese doctors — have been deployed in several areas to provide assistance.

In Tacloban and the nearby municipalities, delegations from the United States and Japan are on the ground, while in Ormoc, a group of Australians and some South Africans are leading the relief operation. In the neighboring island of Cebu, Israeli medical specialists have put up a hospital that has already served almost 2,000 victims.

“We are trying to cover everything and come up with a coherent plan to the problem at hand,” the military commander said.

Relief distribution will remain in high gear the next couple of days and weeks, with more people getting involved and more organizations and countries funneling monetary assistance to the country. Although there’s no impending problem of supply in terms of life-saving relief goods, Deveraturda said that if more aid is coming, it should be focused on long-term rehabilitation and recovery.

“If there’s help needed, we have to look at the needs for reconstruction and rehabilitation,” he concluded. “Let’s move on the next stage of the process.”

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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.