By Minerva BC Newman
CEBU CITY – Nearly six years after the devastating super typhoon Yolanda hit Leyte, the government’s housing program is still wanting and those affected are still asking: where did all the foreign aid go?
The perception, according to lawyer Lesley Cordero, former Undersecretary of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) is that government officials pocketed the billions intended for Yolanda victims.
In her briefer: “WHERE DID THE MONEY GO – Tracking Disaster Aid for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)” a copy of which was obtained by Manila Bulletin, Cordero said if she were to enumerate the mistakes made during Yolanda, the failure of government to regularly inform the public and other stakeholders would top her list.
According to Cordero, most of the agencies were too busy doing relief operations and putting together the recovery plan that no one focused on regularly updating officials of the local government units and the affected communities on what was happening, what government was doing, and explaining the recovery issues and challenges.
“It did not matter that government delivered the Typhoon Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) with 18,486 projects in less than six months with an approved budget of P167.86 billion,” Cordero bared.
It did not make a difference that there were hundreds of projects implemented by various agencies with partners and local government.
The bottom line was that government did not do a good job in sharing relevant information to affected communities and the public immediately and regularly, Cordero wrote.
Government failed to give an update of the projects done, timeline of implementation, and programs delivered for every province, city or municipality. The agencies ended up being blamed for the slow recovery, she added.
Some officials, Cordero said went on a defensive mode, scrambled for answers on the delays in relief distribution and implementation of livelihood and housing projects.
“Managing expectations in post-disaster recovery meant staying ahead of the issues and communicating the solutions, finding quick wins, speedy implementation of basic services, and getting the affected communities to help implement the projects,” Cordero wrote
Pledges vs real money
Cordero revealed that government established the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FaiTH) to capture the donations pledged or committed by the different donors during the humanitarian/emergency phase.
FaiTH reportedly tracked a total of P73.3 billion that were pledged by various donor countries. But what was actually committed was only about P17.2 billion and what the government received was only around P2.5 billion in cash and non-cash donations that went to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO).
Cordero noted that government again failed to explain to the public that the P14.8 billion given by donor countries for Typhoon Yolanda relief assistance went to different NGOs, CSOs, UN agencies, and international organizations chosen by donor countries to implement the projects.
For the reconstruction phase, the OPARR reported that P126.18 billion in loans were offered and P13.38 billion in grants were provided.
The private sector pledged P26.2 billion but only P12.98 billion worth of projects were completed for livelihood, housing, social services and infrastructure, the briefer read.
She stressed that government failed to highlight that almost 90 percent of the rehabilitation and recovery pledges by partners were in the form of loan offers.
Cordero opined that donor countries and partners should also be held to the same standards of reporting as government. They need to declare the actual amount of aid/assistance they are committing or giving instead of what they are pledging or promising, she wrote in her briefer.
“This would immensely help manage expectations of the public in terms of the actual resources available for post-disaster recovery,” Cordero said.
Learning from the Typhoon Yolanda experience
Cordero said that Typhoon Yolanda highlighted several challenges in the country’s disaster risk management efforts. It emphasized the things that government must do to speed up recovery and reconstruction; institutionalize coordination mechanisms among government agencies and stakeholders; establish sound policies, effective implementation arrangements, and pre-disaster baseline data; develop a standard disaster rehabilitation and recovery guide; and identify available resources and develop guidelines on access to funds and emergency procurement.
Cordero concluded that the success in post-disaster reconstruction is measured by real action defined by how well the government has articulated its key message — that after a disaster, “the government is in control, the needs of affected people is addressed, emergency response is fast, and rehabilitation and recovery is moving according to the timeline.”