“I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.”
― Lucille Ball

Friday, November 22, 2013

Status and outlook 2 weeks after typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda struck the Philippines

Today it's 2 weeks since the most powerful typhoon ever hit land, struck the Philippines.

We have all seen the enormous devastation and the grief and pain of the affected people in the region, especially on the islands Samar, Leyte and Cebu.

The way the government handled this disaster, got a lot of criticism from abroad and of course from the affected people themselves.

Quoting the Telegraph:
"Benigno Aquino, the Philippines president, issued a frank admission that the country’s disaster relief system had collapsed in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan on Monday as the government acknowledged mounting criticism of its response to the tragedy."
A journalist of CNN interviewed a government official on what went wrong with the disaster relief system; when the interviewee said we always do it like this, the interviewer said: 
"Well then you have to change the system".
One of the interviewed victims said: 
"This is worse than hell".
As of today the following figures are reported, source NY Daily News:
"The official body count swelled to more than 5,000 people and officials expect the number to climb higher. Officials said the devastating storm affected some 13 million people."
But the real number varies from source to source. Also many dead people could not be identified and are buried in mass graves. By the way 13 million of 95 million inhabitants is ca. 13.7% of the population. 

PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration) has published last week a decision as to not use the name "Yolanda" anymore in future for newly born typhoons.

What about corruption? Corruption is a big problem in the Philippines. According to http://www.transparency.org the score for the Philippines is rank 105 out of 176 countries or 34/100 (100/100 is clean, 0/100 is highly corrupt). In a poll that was published this week the majority of people did not experience that corruption has becoming less the last 3 years, as this was one of the priorities of president Aquino III. 

The last two weeks I have noticed in several publications that e.g. a high ranking official in Manila repackaged relief goods in bags with his own name printed on it as to prepare for the next elections and delaying the logistics for delivering the goods to the victims in high need. 

In another case distribution of goods on barangay level (the lowest organizational level in a city) was done first to family members and friends of the barangay officials and to people who voted for them, so people not belonging to the inner (political) circle didn't get anything or at least less and/or late.

For this reason I choose to send my relief aid contribution to the account of the coordinating aid organisations (SHO) in the Netherlands. They organised a fund raising campaign last Monday. This is what was reported by ABS-CBN News
"At the end of the day, Giro555 (account 555) was able to raise more than 18.5 million euros or more than one billion pesos. This will be donated to nine organizations that are already active in relief operations in rehabilitations in the Philippines, including Oxfam Novib, Terres de Hommes, Icco Kerk in Actie, Save the Children, Red Cross, Care Nederland, Unicef, Cordaid Mensen In Nood and World Vision."

There is a lot more written and showed on TV channels about almost all aspects of the tragedy, hence I want to focus here on some aspects I have not heard of yet or at least doesn't get a lot of attention in the news.

President Aquino III mentioned in an interview by Christiane Armanpour from CNN, that his priority one is to rebuild the houses for those who survived the disaster. An interesting and noble statement, but how can you do this quickly? Just contemplate the following:
  1. Many houses probably are/were illegally build, do not have a building permit. I am not sure if houses from bamboo/coco lumber need a permit; will the government support building illegal houses? Are the building permits still available or destroyed?
  2. Many houses are/were built on a piece of land that is not owned by the house owner, or if the house owner is also the land owner there is often no official land title; will the government support building houses on land that might belong to someone else?
  3. As a survivor, how can you prove that you are the owner of a piece of land, even if there was a land title, but the owner's copy is gone and the government's administration is gone as well, I believe this is the case in Tacloban, being the provincial capital of Leyte and responsible for the registration of titles (or is there a copy in Manila?); what will the government do/decide in such a case?
  4. For all the dead people who owned land officially (with or without an official certificate) there is a need to identify this and next to find the heirs. 
  5. The unidentified dead people may also have owned land, how to identify this and what to do in each particular case.
Knowing how long it usually takes to get a title (land certificate) when you buy land to build a house in case the papers are available and registered, how long may it take in this disaster case. So this may be a real bottleneck for the priority one rebuilding process, especially in urban areas where many (small) pieces of land are involved.

I am not aware of any government policy as how to manage above problems and on top of that, if financial support is given to surviving families or building materials are provided, how to determine how much an individual will get, so what criteria will be used?

What about OFW's (Overseas Foreign Workers), who live (temporarily) abroad. There are ca. 10 million OFW's worldwide, so 13.7% or ca. 1.3 million overseas people are also affected materially and because of their family ties. Of course many of them want to return, see/search their relatives, children etc. and what is left from their home, which they might have payed for. But they are on contract, so it's difficult for them to return, as they might breach the contract. What will the government do for them?

Another problem with the many dead people is also social security and monthly pension payments. Because there are so many unidentified dead people, how to determine whether payments need to be continued or must be suspended or even ceased. So an administrative system cleanup may be required.

One last remark. A friend of mine is in the process to adopt a child from Filipino parents. The process is going on almost for 2 years and it seems that DSWD (Department for Social Welfare Development), is in the process to finalize the adoption certification report. He is anxious and even nervous that there will be a significant delay now, as DSWD has probably to focus not only on the many families that need urgent help, but also because there are doubtlessly many orphans who need help from DSWD and adoption procedures to be started for them. They might give this the highest priority and then it will indeed delay ongoing procedures.


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