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Disaster, Resilience and the Importance of Community

Written by Pauline Eadie.

Super-typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines on 8 November 2013. Yolanda (international name Haiyan) devastated the Philippines. Over 6300 people were officially reported dead, although unofficially the death toll is estimated to be much higher. On 14 August 2015 the independent Filipino social research institution, Social Weather Stations (SWS), published a report entitled ‘Filipino Public Opinion on the Impact of Typhoon Yolanda: A Year After’. Statistical data in the report is drawn from surveys conducted shortly after the first anniversary of typhoon Yolanda. Survey questions were designed to gather the opinions of survivors on issues relating to both harm suffered and satisfaction with relief and rehabilitations efforts. Surveys were carried out in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The hardest hit region was the Visayas, specifically the areas designated as ‘Region 8‘ in the report (Western Samar and Southern Leyte minus Tacloban City) and Tacloban City itself. 89% of families in Region 8 reported that they were ‘seriously harmed’ by Yolanda. The report details lost or damaged livelihoods, housing, household possessions, community resources and also the rate and source of post-disaster assistance.

Since the disaster various parties have sought to make political capital of the handling of the crisis. This is typified by the attention given to the then Interior Secretary and now 2016 presidential candidate, Mar Roxas’, reminder to Tacloban Mayor, Alfred Romualdez, that ‘You have to understand that you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino’ during a disaster response planning meeting on 10 November 2013. Romualdez is the nephew of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos and Aquino is the son of the Marcoses’ political nemesis Ninoy and Cory Aquino. Thus suggesting that the political rivalry of the two families, as opposed to human need, was uppermost in his mind as the government responded to the crisis. In due course the local government in Tacloban claimed that the national government neglected the city compared to other Yolanda hit areas whilst the national government accused Mayor Romualdez of failing to cooperate with the national relief effort. More broadly there has been widespread criticism of the Philippine government’s immediate relief effort and longer-term response to Yolanda.

Meanwhile the international community immediately responded with cash and in-kind assistance including medical and military personnel. For the purposes of transparency the Philippine government set up the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub although questions remain about both the accuracy and the efficacy of the Hub and the allocation of international donations. Nevertheless the Hub is currently reporting $386, 249, 588.96 received foreign aid. Although not all of this money has been allocated to Yolanda victims. Indeed domestic disaster spending has come under criticism. Social Watch Philippines has recently claimed that the 2016 government budget for the Yolanda Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Programme lacks transparency as money allocated to Yolanda victims has previously been diverted to other calamities. Given these various problems and anomalies the recent SWS report makes interesting reading and raises a number of questions.

Families who lost their household income/job due to Yolanda in Region 8 reported that 29% received government assistance whilst only 6% reported international assistance. The rest relied on relatives or family savings. Meanwhile when asked what help was received and where help was received from 32% reported receiving food whilst 64% reported receiving no help at all. 53% reported receiving help from the government of the Philippines, 24% from foreign NGOs and 3% from foreign governments. Meanwhile of families that had to rebuild or repair their houses 5% reported government assistance and 2% reporting international assistance. The rest relied on loans, savings, income or relatives.

A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought_byTyphoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Image credit: CC by Wikipedia Commons
A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Image credit: CC by Wikipedia Commons.

However across all areas surveyed satisfaction with the national government in the following categories was relatively high; 68% were satisfied with the provisional of medical assistance, 60% with livelihood assistance, 61% with the building of permanent housing and 62% with the repairing of infrastructure. Meanwhile families overwhelming reported very much or somewhat much confidence in local, provincial and national government to respond effectively to future typhoons. From this brief snapshot of opinion it can be tentatively concluded that where help was received people tended to perceive that this came from the government. People also had a higher awareness of non-governmental than governmental foreign aid. However many people simply resorted to self-help relying on their own or extended family resources.

These conclusions are corroborated by a recent report from the College of Social Work and Community Development at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, ‘Shifting Paradigms: Strengthening Institutions for Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction and Management’. This report draws on survey data from four barangays in Leyte. The report details the sometimes chaotic allocation of relief goods and the decline of assistance after the immediate relief phase. Political differences, which mirror the Romualdez-Marcos/Aquino spat but at the local level, are cited as hindering relief and rehabilitation efforts. However throughout the four barangays surveyed the notion of bayanihan (the spirit of helping one another) is repeatedly cited and it becomes clear that resilience is intimately related to community. Consequently relief and rehabilitation strategies, that are mindful of socio-cultural approaches to risk and resilience are more likely to succeed. This is particularly true of poor communities where social, as opposed to material, capital can facilitate mutual support networks.  This goes some way to explaining why Yolanda victims that live in the 40 metre (from the shoreline) ‘no-dwell zone’ have resisted relocation. Livelihood and community life are tied to proximity to the sea. If rehabilitation efforts promote livelihood initiatives at the cost of community then one threat to well-being is simply replaced with another. This poses particular challenges for rehabilitation practitioners and policy makers in the face of rising sea levels and increased incidence of extreme weather events.

 Pauline Eadie is an Assistant Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. She is Primary Investigator of the ESRC/Dfid funded project ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. You can follow this project on Facebook as Project_Yolanda and Twitter @Project_Yolanda.

Image credit: CC by U.S. Navy/Flickr

Published inPhilippinesProject Yolanda

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