March 22, 2016, by Editor

Typhoon Yolanda Survivors Need More than Pro-poor Rhetoric from Politicians

Written by Pauline Eadie.

Market researchers in the Philippines stratify socioeconomic classes into A, B, C, D or E classes. The distinction between the classes is not absolute however it is clear that the D and E classes make up around 90%  of the electorate. Therefore politicians have to appeal to the ‘masa’ vote in order to secure political office. This was done extremely well by former President Joseph (Erap) Estrada who campaigned on the slogan Erap para sa masa or mahirap (Erap for the masses/poor). Meanwhile, outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, who was swept into office by a wave of sympathy for his recently deceased mother (and national icon) former President Cory Aquino, addressed poverty by campaigning on an anti-corruption/good governance ticket. Aquino claimed that ‘if no one is corrupt then no one will be poor’.

 The May 2016 Philippine elections will take place two and a half years after typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines on 8 November 2013.  According to the Foreign Transparency Hub USD 386, 249, 588.96 was received in foreign aid, the vast majority of which was channeled through NGOs. However there have been repeated claims  that the government has been slow to disburse funds or that funds have gone missing. The Emergency Shelter Assistance (EMA) designed to help families whose houses were either partially completely destroyed is a case in point. Many families have been excluded from the funds because of technicalities and even if they have received the funds it has taken years to reach them.  Thus discrediting the idea of the funds being an urgent response to the ‘emergency’.

Our project team conducted a series of interviews with local officials, NGOs, local residents and the business community over the last few months. These interviews took place in Tacloban, Palo and Tanauan. One of the main issues raised during our discussions was livelihood. When we spoke to people in the barangays this is the issue that people frequently stress as most important to them. It is common for interviewees to revisit this issue at the end of an interview even if it has already been discussed.

While it has been clear that some sterling work has been achieved on the livelihood front in these LGUs, much more needs to be done. The Eastern Visayas is now the poorest region in the Philippines. The region is even outperformed by conflict stricken Mindanao. Eastern Leyte faces a number of problems in relation to livelihood.  It is reliant of agriculture and fisheries for the bulk of its earnings, both of these industries were hit hard by Yolanda. The coconut industry has been particularly hard hit as it takes six to eight years  for trees to grow back.

Aid agencies have been involved in the rehabilitation of the fishing industry however, from what we have seen, there has been an over supply of boats. There are now more and bigger boats than there were before and these boats have sometimes been distributed to people who have no use for them. In some cases NGOs seem to have been more concerned with meeting distribution targets than making sure that livelihood strategies can be scaled up and will be sustainable.

There are also concerns that livelihood needs to be built on a basis that goes beyond mere subsistence level. In a pre-Yolanda economic development plan the idea of a fish food plant was mooted however this has not been built. Leyte continues to import fish food from Mindanao despite the fact that fish farming is a viable industry in Leyte.  Similarly USAID branded sari-sari stores and food stalls are in abundance however these directly complete with each other in selling the same goods. There is little or no opportunity to build economies of scale or comparative advantage.

People are extremely grateful for the aid that they have received however it is unclear how Leyte will cope now that virtually all of the aid agencies have left the region. The Philippine government will have to shoulder responsibility for the ongoing recovery efforts and it is unclear how successful these efforts will be in the longer term. This will be a challenge for the incoming government after the national elections in May.

Last week former US Vice President Al Gore visited Tacloban. He also visited currently in Manila heading up Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Manila and is planning a documentary on Yolanda.  As a result of Al Gore’s visit was typhoon Yolanda was once more reported in the international media. The effect of global warming of the Philippines was once more in the news. However global warming, in the form of increasing and more deadly typhoons, also impacts at the family level. Economists working at UC Berkley UC Berkeley argue that strong typhoons cause a depression in household incomes of more than 15% in the subsequent year. They also found that 13% of infant mortality in the Philippines is due to the delayed effects of typhoons. In other words reductions in household spending, on i.e. food and medication, lead to infant deaths, especially girls. Families already on the breadline are pushed over the edge. Amongst older children our team found that many school leavers had no jobs and often university students had to abandon their education as their families could no longer afford the fees.

If the current candidates for political office in the Philippines are serious about meeting the needs of the ‘masa’ in the Philippines they need to ensure that their claims to the poor are not just empty rhetoric. Millions of dollars of aid was given to the Filipino people after Yolanda and there is no doubt that this lessened suffering during the emergency. However challenges remain. The survivors need sustainable livelihood in order to rebuild their lives, communities, families and dignity. For a few days in November 2013 Tacloban was headline news all over the world it would be regrettable if the survivors were just quietly left to sink into poverty now. Disaster relief practitioners need to craft long-term sustainable relief strategies and politicians need to deliver on their promises.

 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: Author provided.

Posted in Philippines