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Why Community Participation Works: The Inclusive Housing Strategies of Humanitarian Organizations

Written by Ladylyn Lim Mangada.

In November 2013 Super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) displaced 4.1 million people. More than one million houses were destroyed. The economic damage was estimated to be 14.5 USD billion. Tacloban City, the largest urban center and hub of the Eastern Visayas region suffered catastrophic damage. 28,700 houses were totally damaged and 17,600 were partially damaged. Of those damaged houses, 90% were in low-lying coastal areas and were primarily occupied by informal settlers or the urban poor. The rebuilding of settlements in Tacloban has proven to be a protracted and contentious process. This short article argues that it has been essential for survivors to be involved in a transparent process of ‘building back better’ in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda.

Building Back Better is not just about recovery it is also about the capacity to adapt to new and safer ways of living that reduce the impact of future hazards. Given the scale of damage in Tacloban the scale of the rebuilding process is extensive. Many thousands of homes are being built in the Northern barangays of the city, far from the sea on higher ground. In some areas several problems have dogged the selection process for new housing, including allegations of political favouritism. This is unsurprising in a country with a political system underpinned by patron-client relations. Such allegations have hindered relief efforts.

Numerous survivors are still living in vulnerable locations as they wait to be transferred to safer housing. More than three years since Typhoon Yolanda only a few humanitarian and development organizations remain in the area. Relief organizations still working on shelter assistance include Plan Philippines, Catholic Relief Services and the Philippine Red Cross. Using various shelter modalities, these three agencies continue working to provide housing for Yolanda survivors in the devastated coastal districts of Sagkahan, Anibong and San Jose. These agencies have developed common strategies to facilitate the delivery of housing and infrastructure despite a number of problems and controversies.

The organizations coordinated with the Office of the City Housing and Community Development and only then targeted specific badly damaged barangays. The list of survivors from the City Housing Office was reviewed and validated at the barangay (village) level to identify and remove beneficiaries that had already been awarded housing units by the government and other donors. One agency validated the list more than 15 times to avoid duplication. The process of cross-checking was problematic. In most cases lists had not been updated to account for survivor-residents who had already received housing and no longer lived in the barangay.

Over time regular meetings were conducted between the agencies and beneficiaries. Survivor-beneficiaries were enthusiastic attendees of these meetings. An agency has 900 beneficiaries in a district. Out of the 900 only one or two people failed to attend meetings. During the meetings, the criteria for relocation were presented and negotiated by the survivor-beneficiaries with the donor institutions. They would freely convey their demands and preferences thereby making it a forum for participation and enforcement.

Information on the relocation shelters was posted regularly and widely in the barangays. Bulletin boards that provided regular updates on the status of the housing assistance were installed in designated places in the barangays. The boards were located in central locations so that affected people were able to access information easily. Barangay officials and villagers were mobilized to identify qualified and eligible beneficiaries.  Another set of villagers would validate the choice of beneficiaries at the purok (sub-village) level.  The committee membership was not dominated by village leaders, survivors were able participate in decision making.

Humanitarian organizations assigned significant numbers of community workers who were able to investigate complaints and concerns. Potential beneficiaries who were unwilling to express sensitive information during meetings were encouraged to send text messages to enable them to voice their concerns. Others utilized suggestion boxes, which were placed in different puroks in the barangay. The most common issue raised was the non-disclosure of financial information from potential beneficiaries who are perceived to be well-off and therefore capable of addressing their own housing needs. Community workers typically attended to these concerns within 24 hours.

Survivors were also involved in determining the size, design and construction of the housing units. They were keen to be actively involved in constructing their houses, from planning, to purchasing of materials to actually contributing manpower. They argued that contractor built houses were poor quality and expensive. The involvement of the survivors in the rebuilding effort is a desirable element of resilience building. Resilience building in the aftermath of a disaster is more likely to be effective when local capacity is tapped and communities are encouraged to self-organize and adapt.

Unlike government housing, the humanitarian organizations allowed homosexual couples or same sex partners to avail themselves of housing assistance. These donor organizations were forward thinking when dealing with notions of sexuality, gender and citizenship in post disaster recovery. This signifies liberation from discrimination and a major step towards equality.

These housing strategies have proven successful in building forward. It is friendly, participatory, inclusive and allows survivors to manage construction costs.  Participatory and inclusive housing strategies enhance resilience, build good leaders and promote effective governance.

Ladylyn Lim Mangada is a professor in political science at the University of the Philippines, Visayas, Tacloban. She is a researcher with the ESRC/DFID funded project ‘Poverty Alleviation in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda’. You can follow this project on Facebook @ Project_Yolanda and Twitter @Project_Yolanda. Image credit: CC by DFID/Flickr.

Published inAsiaAsia and PacificProject Yolanda

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