I have been visiting different parts of Philippines to assess the damage caused by the latest typhoon - Hagupit (locally known as Ruby), and the impact on the poorest of the poor families.
From my experience of working in emergencies, I realized that the intensity of problems for landless communities affected by typhoon Hagupit (and of course Yolanda) was much greater than was being reported by different stakeholders and responders.
There are certain issues which may be further exacerbated if a long term disaster response approach is not applied. The main issue is the lack of land for the poorest of the poor who unfortunately happen to have sustained huge losses in terms of displacement, house destruction and livelihood disruption.
During the visit, I learnt that majority of the people affected by the typhoon do not own any land. They have constructed small temporary shelters either on the river bank or at the sea shore. In most cases, land is the government’s property.
Whenever, there is a typhoon or a high tide (which unfortunately is a routine occurrence if you live so close to the water), these people are the first to be affected. At times, they are the only people affected, but tragically, such disasters fail to attract attention of media, INGOs and even the government.
On interviewing the affected landless families, they told me that they did not have resources to procure land. As a part of ActionAid’s Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA), we contacted local government officials (captains and a mayor) to find out what the government’s take on the issue was.
Captains of different Barangays (villages) simply have a pre-prepared answer that they neither have the resource nor the authority to procure land for landless communities. However, the mayor of one municipality (Catarman, Northern Samar) agreed to take up the land procurement issue with the provincial government for resource allocation in the 2015 budget plans.
To me, this can be a good starting point for ActionAid and other likeminded organizations working in typhoon affected areas. We discussed in detail what the possible collaborative initiatives could be, as well as conducting a preliminary exercise to assess the actual cost of constructing a disaster resilient house.
The mayor first wanted a commitment from ActionAid or a cluster of international NGOs (INGOs) to provide permanent shelter to the people made homeless by the typhoon, particularly the landless families- only then would he lobby the provincial government for land.
We also discussed the possible impact on the livelihoods of the affected communities if they were relocated far from the seashore. Most of the affected families were fisher folk who preferred to stay closer to the seashore, despite the potential dangers given the frequency of typhoons the country has seen in 2014.
The mayor was of the view that it would be near to impossible to procure land in the main area because it is very costly. He said that the government would only agree to the proposal if land is cheap and far from the centre of a particular barangay or the city.
Now the question is whether INGOs will ensure an effective follow up with the mayor and other government officials to make this proposition viable. Secondly, the urgency of the issue requires effective coordination with other actors in the emergency response.
The next important step would be rapid fundraising to make sure the most in need are supported in a sustainable way. Last but not the least, the emergency response provides us an opportunity to ensure women’s economic, social and political empowerment.
In the Philippines, the lack of land and resilient homes are sources of insecurity for women. The biannual investment those women and their families make in rebuilding their homes results in economic loss for women and their families. Recurring disasters deepen economic insecurity among all those affected, but it has the worst impact on women who are responsible for managing the household budget from whatever little income they receive from men.
ActionAid is working with landless communities in the Philippines, particularly women to support them to claim their rights and be better prepared for disasters in future. This is heartening to mention here that in the post Haiyan and Hagupit typhoons, ActionAid prioritized women for shelter and livelihood support.
Find out more about our work in the Philippines: http://www.actionaid.org/philippines