How Typhoon Haiyan survivors are rebuilding their lives and communities with help from Development and Peace

December 15, 2017
Typhoon Haiyan survivors are rebuilding their lives

The scale of the destruction, pain and misery wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the central part of the Philippines on November 8th, 2013, was staggering. The initial response provided life-saving support to millions of people in the affected region, however, the greater challenge has been to ensure that recovery and reconstruction efforts will leave devastated communities better prepared to withstand future shocks. The world may now be wondering how Typhoon Haiyan survivors have rebuilt their communities?

It became evident that rebuilding storm-ravaged areas, while overwhelming and complicated, offered Development and Peace and its partners the unique opportunity to redress some of the conditions of poverty that made people so vulnerable in the first place, such as chronic poverty, powerlessness, inequality, living on the margins and in hazardous areas and the fact that the institutions that are supposed to assist them are generally weak. In addition, the magnitude of a disaster like Haiyan, opens the door to corporations taking advantage of the chaotic situation to push forward their own interests, which they would not be able do in normal times.

Our partners saw the Haiyan destruction as an opportune moment to replace unjust social and economic arrangements with new, just and resilient socio-economic, cultural and political structures and institutions.

I’m a Survivor | Nous sommes des survivants

Humanitarian responses are more effective when community organizing is integrated

During the relief phase, the survivors’ dependence to external assistance can be reinforced, particularly for people who are still recovering from the trauma. The community organizing (CO) approach is designed to ensure that poor and vulnerable people can form strong organizations that have a powerful voice and can engage with local and national governments, humanitarian organizations and international agencies before, during and after disasters such as the Haiyan tragedy.

With the support of Development and Peace, NASSA-Caritas Philippines incorporated community organizing into its reconstruction program. Community organizers were trained by Development and Peace’s partner Community Organizers Multiversity and were inserted into nine diocesan Caritas offices that have shelter, livelihood, and disaster-risk reduction teams. 

Integrating the CO approach was considered a first in the humanitarian work of the Caritas family. It has yielded significant results both in terms of efficient and effective delivery of tangible assistance in the affected communities and in strengthening the sense of rights of their citizens. As such, they have been able to directly engage local authorities, and have succeeded in some instances in acquiring land and supplementary funding from their local and national governments.

Community organizing during the emergency, recovery and reconstruction phases presents a daunting challenge. Bringing in this approach, which is outside the box of the usual humanitarian response (shelter, livelihood, WASH, etc.) can be disorienting for those who are in the sector. Initial reactions ranged from discomfort, since involving the people can be time-consuming when the immediate response must be rapid, to dismissive as most assumed that “community participation” is a given and presumed to be already built into their humanitarian responses through community consultations and the dissemination of information. 

The CO approach, however, shows that there are several degrees of people’s participation that can range from 1) Informed (conscious) beneficiary 2) Co-evaluator 3) Co-Implementer 4) Co-planner; and finally to 5) Co-initiator. The ultimate aim of organizing for genuine empowerment, over and above the usual capacity building initiatives, is for the people, or in this case survivors, to become the real initiator and fully in charge of recovery and reconstruction efforts. They will truly be the prime mover of their long-term development or social change initiatives -  and those innate capacities will remain with them even after the external agencies are gone. 

Community organizing in the Haiyan recovery and reconstruction program has played a significant role in the realization of people’s new hopes and dreams as they emerged from the nightmarish post-disaster life.

Reconstruction projects that give people a voice 

Development and Peace’s Typhoon Haiyan reconstruction program has consistently aimed to empower survivors and enhance their capacity to have their voices heard so can affect significant change in their lives. Here are some results of what has been accomplished:

  • Construction at the Pope Francis Village (PFV) construction is moving at a rapid pace with over 300 units either complete or under construction. This project has led to the acquisition of skills and knowledge by community participants in areas related to finance, construction and procurement of materials and warehousing. At present, the site is providing employment to as many as 600 workers, thereby providing a significant boost to the local economy. 
    Learn more about the Pope Francis Village and watch the trailer of the upcoming documentary After the Storm: Building the Pope Francis Village. 
  • Development and Peace supported the creation of the Coalition of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), whose legislative and executive advocacy is making an important contribution to the accountability of public officials. It has provided significant evidence for hearings by the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development, which have revealed that while the government should have built 205,128 housing units since 2013, some 4 years later, only 23,414 units are occupied, and another 73,286 units are still under construction. The Committee is now preparing to file legal cases against contractors, which could include government housing officials, for substandard construction. In response to calls for reform by the CYSP, the executive has also issued Administrative Order to create an Inter-Agency Task Force on Yolanda (IATF) to strengthen coordination and cooperation of various agencies involved in Yolanda reconstruction.  
    Learn more about the work of the CYSP.
  • Development and Peace called on its long-standing partner, the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), to provide support to Typhoon Haiyan survivors to use art and theatre as ways of healing. PETA recently won the prestigious Magsaysay award, which honours greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia.  In its official citation the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation cited PETA for “its bold, collective contributions in shaping the theater arts as a force for social change, its impassioned, unwavering work in empowering communities in the Philippines, and the shining example it has set as one of the leading organizations of its kind in Asia.”