Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Recovering from Yolanda

Posted by butalidnl on 2 December 2013

In the aftermath of super-typhoon Yolanda, some people wonder if the Philippines will suffer a similar fate as Haiti – where people have not yet fully recovered after four years, inspite of massive international aid. I believe that this will not happen in the Philippines – the country will recover faster and in a better way than most people expect.

State of the Economy
The Philippine economy was growing fast before the typhoon, and it will continue to do so despite it. Gross Domestic Product growth was more than 7% in 2012; it is expected to decrease to be 6% in 2013 because of the typhoon. Part of this is because the storm struck near the end of the year; but economists project that it will also be 6% in 2014.

Typhoon Yolanda devastated Region 8 (Samar and Leyte); it damaged parts of Region 7 (Central Visayas) and Region 8 (Western Visayas). While it affected about 13 million people directly, all this happened in only 3 out of 14 of the country’s regions; affecting less than 15% of the total Philippine population.

More importantly, Yolanda missed the country’s important industrial and commercial areas of Metro Manila and Cebu. These centers now serve as hubs for the relief effort to the affected areas. They are now hubs for the relief effort: cargo planes fly from them with needed supplies; evacuees stay there temporarily. The parts of the Philippines that were untouched have mobilized their whole government machinery, businesses and private citizens, to provide relief. Region 8 regional agencies have temporarily moved their base to Cebu, ensuring continued operations. Local government units, from Metro Manila to Davao, have sent personnel and equipment to help.

The breadth and depth of the support that comes from the rest of the Philippines will ensure that the relief and rehabilitation of the affected areas can be sustained. While foreign support was needed, and thankfully provided, in the immediate aftermath of the storm; they will not be able to help forever.

Haiti was a very poor country before the earthquake struck it. It was then the poorest country in the Americas already. The quake only made things worse; it struck the capital, Port-au-Prince, totally flattening it. The country was in no position to provide local relief to the affected areas. They were totally dependent on foreign support.

Haiti needed a lot of help just to recover to pre-earthquake levels; which it has  achieved, in a sense. The problem is that they need to go farther in order to set up a properly functioning economy and society; but funds are more limited now.

Aid Supplies Hinder Local Production
In Haiti, the massive influx of aid supplies has led to the decline of local production of many products. Imported American rice, for example, has largely displaced local rice production.

In the Philippines, the relief effort is emptying the inventories of many local traders of food and other products. Suppliers of construction materials will have a field day supplying the needs of the rebuilding effort. Local resources, from trucks to medical personnel, are being used in the affected areas, and this will mean increased opportunities for local businesses and employment.

Did the Philippines Need the Massive Aid?
Yes, very much. Typhoon Yolanda hit a vast area; millions of people needed help at the same time. The Philippine government was in no position to adequately help all of them. For one, it did not have the logistical resources to reach out to them simultaneously.

The response to the call for help after Yolanda struck was impressive. Many governments immediately pledged or sent aid. Many even sent soldiers and technicians to help. Private funds were raised by Overseas Filipinos and peoples all over the world. People all over the Philippines gathered funds, goods, and volunteered to help. It was all worth it – the affected regions needed all the support that they received in this time of grave need.

The country’s system of decentralized disaster response management proved inadequate to a disaster of Yolanda’s scale.  It had worked well for most of the typhoons that hit it every year; but Yolanda decimated many towns’ capacity to respond by hitting the command centers (city halls), potential first responders and even the pre-positioned relief supplies. The system needs to be upgraded so that it can respond well to really big disasters like Yolanda.

But even if the country is made more resilient to storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and other disasters, it would still need massive foreign aid in order to respond to a disaster of the scale of Yolanda. Even Japan, arguably one of the most disaster-resilient countries in the world, needed help after the massive tsunami that hit it.

Yolanda was an extremely strong typhoon whose path was entirely within the Visayas. Unlike other storms that hit Luzon or Mindanao, Yolanda hit very many islands (some quite small) making the logistics of extending aid very important, and very difficult. Trucks and cargo handling equipment had to be brought in to remote islands, airports and ports needed to be repaired before meaningful amounts of aid could be brought in. When typhoons  hit Luzon, the affected areas can be reached almost immediately by land; big logistical problems similar to that which followed Yolanda usually do not happen.

Recovery
How long will it take for the affected areas to recover? Well, recovery will be uneven: Running water has been restored in Tacloban and some other towns; electricity is expected to be restored to most areas by the end of the year. The economic activity of these areas is already starting to recover: jeepneys are running again, shops are opening, many evacuees have returned from Manila and Cebu. But reconstruction will take longer. New guidelines would need to be put in place, e.g. how far away from the shore should houses be built. In many towns, the local government would need to preside over moving the whole town inland. The necessary land for this would need to be acquired by the LGU and then distributed to new owners, perhaps based on the area of the original lands where their houses used to stand. And of course, building new homes and other structures need money (lots of money) and it will take time. All this will strain the available supply of building materials.

In half a year, crops like rice or corn would have been harvested; and coconuts may have been replanted, with shorter-growing crops planted in between.

In a year’s time, Tacloban and most other areas hit by Yolanda will be bustling. But many people will still be in temporary housing (probably tents or shanties) while the construction of more permanent housing would be ongoing. And, hopefully, there would be stronger buildings that are built (or retrofitted), which would serve as evacuation centers.

Four years from now, a visitor to Tacloban or other areas hit by Yolanda, will not see any trace of the storm.

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One Response to “Recovering from Yolanda”

  1. reader said

    this is encouraging.

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