After Haiyan: crucial steps in the path to recovery

One month after Typhoon Haiyan devastated millions of homes and lives in the Philippines, Shaheen Chughtai reviews the situation on the ground and what’s needed for people to be able to rebuild their lives and thrive, even through future shocks. A briefing note published today outlines crucial gaps in the recovery effort and calls for increased efforts to
tackle poverty and reduce the risk of climate-related disasters.

The strength of a nation, said Confucius, derives from the integrity of the home.

I first met Maricar, her husband Elegario, and their five children in their home: in their kitchen to be precise. They could tell it was their kitchen because of the shiny ceramic floor tiles.They could tell it was their kitchen because of the shiny ceramic floor tiles.

There was, however, virtually nothing else left of their kitchen, or any of the adjoining rooms, after their home was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. All that remains is rubble and a tangle of debris.

Everything we owned has gone,” said Maricar mournfully.

Maricar and her family live in the Philippines coastal town of Basey on the island of Samar. The island is where, on 8 November, Typhoon Haiyan first made landfall. The most intense storm to make landfall since records began tore a swathe of destruction through the central Philippines. Haiyan damaged approximately 1.2 million homes, completely destroying about 579,000 of them.

For many months ahead, humanitarian aid will be necessary to keep millions of people alive, healthy and safe. Despite huge logistical challenges caused by Haiyan’s mayhem, the aid effort has reached at least three million people so far. But it must expand fast to assist millions more across a vast battered region.

Moreover, as people begin to rebuild their lives and communities, and as the Philippines government starts drafting plans for reconstruction, crucial challenges lie ahead.

The sooner people revive their 
livelihoods, the sooner they can begin earning money and contribute to  resurrecting their communities…
Firstly, helping people recover quickly is vital. The sooner people revive their livelihoods, the sooner they can begin earning money, get off aid, and contribute to resurrecting their communities and economies.

For some, recovery comes with a deadline. Driving through the ravaged farmlands of the island of Leyte with an Oxfam assessment team, we stop to talk to some rice farmers. Their stores of rice seeds and fertilizer were wrecked – just weeks before the rice planting season of December and early January. If they miss that, there will be no harvest in March April, no related income, and less food for their families and their communities.

Oxfam’s typhoon response team quickly devises plans to procure and distribute thousands of bags of rice seeds to such farmers over the coming weeks.

Download our briefing Typhoon Haiyan:The response so far and vital lessons for the Philippines recoveryFor the longer term, the Philippines government has yet to unveil its plans for reconstruction but there are some important lessons and principles that should influence its design.

Firstly, the reconstruction strategy must reduce poverty. The Philippines’ experience, mirrored around the world, shows that disasters increase poverty. And poverty increases the risk and impact of disasters, trapping people in a downwards spiral of debt and destitution.

The reconstruction strategy must break this vicious circle, stimulating an economic development of the disaster zone whose benefits prioritise poor and vulnerable men and women, putting money into their pockets for a rainy day (sometimes literally) so they have savings, assets, perhaps insurance, to fall back on and hence a means of self recovery.

Secondly, the reconstruction strategy must be adequately resourced and ambitious. According to the UN, the Philippines is the country third most at risk, experiencing approximately 20 typhoons a year. On 15 October 2013, a powerful earthquake struck the Philippines island province of Bohol, leaving nearly 2000 dead and 73,000 buildings and other structures damaged, including 14,500 totally destroyed.

Such disasters cost not only lives but money, draining the Philippines economy and undermining the impact of donor aid investments. The Philippines government and donors have invested considerably in disaster risk reduction in the country before – and that investment has undoubtedly made a difference. Timely early warnings and evacuations, for example, saved thousands of lives despite Haiyan’s record-breaking severity. But DRR resources should be increased to match the level of extraordinary risk the country faces – a risk that is growing with
climate change.

A reconstruction strategy that neglects such issues drafts a blueprint for its own failure. But if we rebuild homes more resistant and communities more resilient to future shocks, we can turn a catastrophic event into an opportunity for the Philippine people now, and for generations to come. 

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Author: Shaheen Chughtai
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.