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Typhoons mired communities struggle hard to evade future disasters

Monday, January 5, 2015 - 11:05

Life for a poor family in Philippines is as bad and challenging as one can imagine of it to be. Recurrent disasters have had a very serious impact on their ability to rebuild lives. They are trapped in a never ending cycle of typhoons, storms and landfalls and above all the poverty.

During last two weeks, I have been traveling to different parts of Philippines to collect case studies and photos so that ActionAid is able to make a strong case for humanitarian support to the poorest of the poor families affected by a series of typhoons.

To my surprise, people have little hope of seeking substantial support from both the government and the civil society. At some places, a good number of humanitarian organizations were out there to extend as much support as they could but still it seemed to be quite insufficient given the propensity of loss incurred upon the affected communities by a series of typhoons.

The difficult part of emergency response is provision of permanent shelter to the most marginalized families. Unfortunately they don’t own even a small piece of land. Most of them have no choice but to build houses inside the water. Despite the fact that the government has declared these places as ‘no build areas’, for a large number of people, this is the only available option for housing.  

While having discussion with local government officials (captains and a mayor), I learnt that the government did not seem to have chalked out a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation of the people affected by the typhoons. Most of them complained that they did not have enough resources to initiate resettlement plan for the affected communities.

Though there have been visible support from humanitarian organizations including ActionAid for the affectees of typhoon Yolanda, yet the families affected by typhoon Hagupit are still living in the evacuation centres. These evacuation centres present a gloomy picture of life. People don’t have privacy at all as a number of families (mostly 10-20) live in a single room hall where issues of hygiene, healthcare and emotional trauma are too big for the local government authorities to take care of.

For a larger number of poor families I happened to visit, disaster resilience is nothing else but to struggle for daily living, mending broken houses with locally available material and keeping an eye on rising water level.  Risk of younger kids to get drowned in deep water was alarmingly high as I witnessed mothers observing strict vigilance on their movement. Furthermore, it does not look like that children were having nutritious diet as their mother were in distress and it really had impact on the children too.   

To my disappointment, I did not see effective coordination among different humanitarian organizations present in the same area. I attended a coordination meeting organized by Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Office (PDRRMO) in Borangay, Eastern Samar. I observed that the most of the organizations failed to submit consolidated data regarding typhoon Hagupit response.

Likewise, in terms of having access to need assessment data, there was no independent mechanism except the figures shared by the government authorities. However, all stakeholders realized the importance of consolidating information so that a holistic picture of ongoing response could be drawn. ActionAid staff was keen to find out where the need for shelter support was the most.

We shared our findings with other stakeholders particularly the government that the barangays located far away from the mainstream areas, were in bad need of shelter support. We urged the government officials to allocate land to the landless communities so that they were able to construct disaster resilient houses with support from ActionAid and other humanitarian organizations.

The most annoying part of disaster response is the lackluster approach of the government in terms of honoring the commitment it made to the affected families. In post Yolanda and Hagupit situation, government pledged to pay 30, 000 pesos (£406) to all the affected families. Unfortunately, there is no progress at all in this regard. Worst of all, most of the affected families are still waiting for government officials to visit them and assess the damage they sustained.

Apart from shelter support, I believe that women economic empowerment is another neglected area. For the poorest of the poor, we can only transform disaster into opportunity if women are prioritized for sustainable income generations models like seeds banks, kitchen gardening and livestock rearing. From my interaction with the women from affected communities, I learnt that they were keenly looking forward to attain economic independence through ActionAid sponsored sustainable livelihood programs.