Recovering from storms Ketsana and Parma in the Philippines: the importance of people's voices in recovery and reconstruction

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A recently released Post-Disaster Needs Assessment tells of big numbers: total damage and losses following typhoons Ketsana and Parma was US$4.3 billion.  (Photo by Nonilon Reyes)

My mind raced back to the remote town of Balangiga in Eastern Samar, as the Philippines government, development partners and the private sector were discussing the findings of the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) in a recent dialogue in Makati City.

The PDNA—prepared by a team of local and international experts from the government agencies, private sector, civil society and development partners—tells about big numbers: total damage and losses following two typhoons, Ketsana and Parma, was US$4.3 billion. And resources needed for the Philippines to pick up the pieces and eventually get back on its feet is equally big—more than US$4.4 billion (pdf). There were discussions about how the PDNA could serve as a framework for recovery and reconstruction, but my mind kept telling me that one of the key principles to effectively address floods and disasters in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon—on top of the required resources, processes, and governance reforms—lies in the experiences of residents of that remote town in the Visayas Islands.

Balangiga has 12,000 residents but it seems it has something from which the more than 12 million population of Metro Manila could learn from.

I got to Balangiga sometime in June this year right after a strong typhoon hit the Visayas Islands. I was accompanying a World Bank colleague from Tokyo who wanted to see how community-driven development (CDD) works on the ground. I heard stories about the town’s flooding problem years ago and expected to see parts of the town center under water.

I was surprised to see the town so clean and dry. The secret? A community driven development project called KALAHI-CIDSS. The KALAHI is acronym for Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan or “linking arms against poverty,” while CIDSS stands for Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services. The project was designed to strengthen local communities' participation in local district governance, and develop capacity to create, implement, and manage development activities that reduce poverty.

Resources needed for the Philippines to pick up the pieces and eventually get back on its feet is more than US$4.4 billion. (Photo by Jhon Paul del Rosario)

KALAHI-CIDSS trains villagers in project planning, technical design, financial management and procurement, thus building a cadre of future capable leaders at the local level. The project also provides villagers with opportunities for accessing information, expressing their opinions, and influencing local governance. Communities are thus empowered to choose, plan and design projects that address local challenges. And the Balangiga residents proved capable by effectively solving flooding through their own collective decision making and action.

The scale of the devastation in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon caused by the back-to-back disasters are far bigger than those experienced by Balangiga residents. Typhoons Ketsana and Parma affected more than 9 million people. The total damage and losses, suffered largely by the private sector, were equivalent to 2.7 percent of the Philippines’ GDP. And the proffered solutions are far more complex.

The PDNA has identified at least six major areas that need immediate attention (pdf): revitalizing the enterprise sector, restoring rural production and livelihood, better flood management, provision of better housing especially for the informal sector, a more coherent risk reduction and management system, and better local governance. Certainly, all these things need huge resources and better ways of doing things especially in areas like land use planning, provision of housing, water management, environmental protection, and disaster risk mitigation.

Nevertheless, the lessons from Balangiga—the need for participatory approaches linked to funding—remain just as important as the government, civil society, private sector and the development partners firm up the next steps to expedite reconstruction and recovery. And the PDNA has reinforced the principles of ensuring a transparent, accountable, and results-based recovery and reconstruction efforts.

“Community-based, participatory approaches that engage local communities in decision making, implementation, and monitoring of activities will be adopted to increase the quality and speed of reconstruction, align projects with real needs, and lower the risk of misuse of funds,” says the PDNA. “Projects should maximize the use of local initiative, resources and capacities. Planning and execution will be based on local knowledge, skills, materials, and methods, taking into account the need for affordable solutions.”

The words of Balangiga Mayor Viscuso de Lira about the virtues of participatory approaches are still fresh in my mind: “It’s a learning process. The more we do it, the more we learn from its processes. And the people realize that if they do it themselves, if they work collectively, there are greater chances that community projects are sustained.”


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