Supporting early recovery from disasters: The Philippine experience with emergency cash transfers

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Left: Cash-for-work payout operations of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Borbon, Philippines; Right: DSWD monitoring impact of Typhoon Ulysses in 2020. Photo courtesy of DSWD. Left: Cash-for-work payout operations of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Borbon, Philippines; Right: DSWD monitoring impact of Typhoon Ulysses in 2020. Photo courtesy of DSWD.

When Typhoon Kompasu (Maring) tore through the Luzon region of the Philippines in October 2021, it left devastation in its wake. Among those affected were Perla Ganaden, Victoria Agsam, and Sonny Ganaden. Their stories echo the fear and resilience common in such situations.

Perla Ganaden faced rising floodwaters that threatened her family's safety. “We were in a hurry. The water came up so fast. I was thinking of keeping my family safe, my children safe,” she explained.

Victoria Agsam's home was destroyed by a boulder loosened by the torrential rain, forcing her family to endure cramped conditions at her parents' house. “There was barely any space left to move, and no restroom,” she shared, describing what happened.

Sonny Ganaden found himself trapped indoors by the sudden rise of floodwater. “We were really scared because we could no longer evacuate. The water rose quickly, we got trapped inside,” he recounted.

Perla, Victoria, and Sonny are amongst half a million people in Luzon region who were severely affected by Typhoon Kompasu. The three of them, together with their neighbors, needed resources to rebuild what the typhoon had destroyed.

In times of such disasters, the challenge of recovery is immense. Many families have limited savings to draw from to rebuild their lives. Fast access to cash can be the lifeline that prevents them from facing long-term impacts on their incomes and sliding deeper into poverty. Recognizing this, the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) established the Emergency Cash Transfer (ECT) program.

This ECT program learned valuable lessons from the country's experience with Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) which affected the lives of 14.1 million Filipinos and displaced 4.1 million people in 2013. To aid in recovery, the DSWD, with support from the World Bank, quickly implemented an interim ECT program. In addition to the regular conditional cash transfers received by the country’s poorest families through the flagship poverty alleviation program, Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program (4Ps), the agency released unconditional cash transfer payments to those affected by the typhoon.  

This practice, tested under extreme conditions, proved its worth, and the Philippine government institutionalized ECT as a core disaster response mechanism. A clear policy framework and implementation guidelines were developed, allowing the program to support not only the country's poorest but also other vulnerable families affected by disasters.

The World Bank provided technical support to DSWD in developing the ECT Program. This was possible through the 2nd Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Development Policy Loan with a Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option (Cat DDO 2), a standby loan facility that provides the Government immediate liquidity in the aftermath of disasters along with technical support for innovative policy reforms.

In essence, the ECT is DSWD’s first line of defense. Families receive cash transfers immediately after a disaster, supplementing the food and non-food items provided by national and local governments, and other partners.

This program has already made a tangible impact. “When I received the ECT, I used the cash to rebuild the wall of our house. Part of the money went to the replacement of goods we had lost. With the rest, we bought rice and meals as well as the maintenance medicine I need to take,” Sonny Ganaden said.

The pilot ECT program in San Juan, La Union, benefitted 3,763 families, and to date, 61,455 beneficiaries across the country have received help following severe typhoons, earthquakes, or oil spills.

Going forward, the DSWD aims to integrate ECT into its overall disaster response and social protection plans. The World Bank, through the Beneficiary FIRST Social Protection Project, continues to support DSWD’s initiatives, helping ensure faster disbursement of cash transfers through electronic payment options, and using the Philippine National ID for quicker and accurate beneficiary verification.

The ECT program is now a fundamental part of the Philippines' response system, delivering immediate support to disaster-stricken communities and allowing them to recover faster and thrive, despite adversity.


Lesley Y. Cordero

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Yasuhiro Kawasoe

Disaster Risk Management Specialist

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