In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (a.k.a. Haiyan) the hard question stares us squarely in the face: What’s next for a nation that, even in normal times, struggles to deliver the most basic services to the majority of its people?.
According to recent reports, up to four million Filipinos are left displaced after what some have described as recorded history’s worst storm to hit land. The immediate need of victims are staggering…
“The evacuation centers are an increasing concern,” said Matthew Cochrane, spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Places like the Tacloban City Convention Center, an indoor basketball stadium now home to some 2,500 people who lost their homes in the storm, are straining under the lack of sanitation and basic supplies. “People are living in squalid conditions in need of as much support as they can get,” Mr. Cochrane said.
In addition, about 2.5 million people require food aid. “The most pressing need is food,” he said.
It is interesting to note that Yolanda’s most devastated communities lie along the coast of northern Leyte where Tacloban, the province’s biggest city also lies completely broken. This is the site where the Japanese Imperial Army’s invading forces first landed on May, 1942 signalling the beginning of World War II’s deep impact on the Philippines. These days mark another milestone for the Japanese military as well. The first stages of what will be its biggest overseas military deployment since World War II was reportedly dispatched last Monday…
Japan on Monday dispatched two warships, carrying some 650 troops, to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines in the first major contingent of the military’s largest overseas aid deployment.
The two vessels, also carrying six helicopters, left the western port of Kure and are scheduled to arrive in the Philippines on Friday, said a defence ministry spokesman.
He added that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are sending a total of 10 planes Monday to the disaster-struck nation — seven C-130 transport planes, two KC-767 tanker planes and one U-4 multi-purpose support aircraft.
And as that is going on, the awesome might of the United States’ armed forces is already at work delivering goods and services to Filipinos across the ravaged areas. Just as interesting is the fact that Tacloban is also the site of the landing of General Douglas MacArthur’s liberating forces in October, 1944. The Americans have, indeed, returned a second time!
It is good timing as well. As relief supplies and funding spurred by volunteers from the private sector ramp down as Filipinos overseas and in unaffected areas begin to tick the have-done-my-part-for-this-disaster box on their To-Do Lists, the enormity of what still needs to be done still looms in the bleak horizon. Only the macro resources of competent national governments can save Yolanda’s victims now over the long haul as private citizens get back to running their personal lives and private businesses get back to the business of, well, business.
But the expected on-going economic impact of the disaster paints a stark picture of the scale of the recovery and rebuilding that needs to be done…
[Image captured from report PDC CD-003A issued by the Pacific Disaster Center. The product is updated as additional information becomes available.]
According to Banco de Oro (BDO) SVP and chief investment officer Marvin Fausto, “the effects of the typhoon on the economy may linger next year before it stability is restored”…
“The economy will have to reflect the GDP downgrade and slowly the market will adjust and price that in. So maybe give it a couple of months or maybe a quarter of correction before things will come back to normal and look at the economic prospects again for the Philippines moving forward,” he said.
The price of basic commodities like rice — a staple food for most Filipinos — is already reportedly skyrocketing as the vast extent of the damage to agricultural lands is revealed as more relief workers reach previously isolated communities in affected areas…
A third of the country’s rice-producing land was decimated by the super storm, known locally as typhoon Yolanda, according to US-based Commodity Weather Group. These areas were already among the country’s poorest.
The Philippines Department of Finance says rice crops were the hardest hit, with about 67,000 hectares destroyed, and that figure is likely to climb significantly as inspection teams reach more remote areas.
The Manila-based department estimates the average income in the hardest hit areas will drop by 25 per cent over the next six months.
An official damage report coming from the Department of Finance “predicts up to 10 per cent of the affected provinces’ 2014 GDP will be wiped off the books, taking about 1 percentage point from the national GDP estimate of 7.3 per cent to 7.5 per cent.” But then…
Others put the cost much higher. Asia Development Bank economist Joseph Zveglich said the 2012 typhoon in Mindanao shaved 2.9 per cent from GDP. ”The devastation from this storm was much greater. A loss of 2½ to 5 per cent seems likely,” he said. ”You have to look at the loss of livelihoods, the devastation of farm areas and the lack of production. During reconstruction, resources are also going to be stretched, and there is only so much internal capacity. There has to be an international response.”
As the picture of what the future holds for millions of Filipinos affected by this disaster gets bleaker, the on-going crisis of trust being suffered by the government of Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III becomes a more pressing issue. Much of the groundwork that widened Filipinos’ already long-gaping exposure to catastrophic collapse in the event of a major calamity such as what Yolanda has brought on to this hapless nation was laid by decades and decades of institutionalised thievery perpetrated by Filipinos’ popularly-elected politicians.
Critics of Manila’s muted response to the typhoon say the storm exposed many of the archipelago’s long-festering problems of corruption and government incompetence, particularly a weak central government and provincial governors who wield virtual autonomy over their fiefdoms, keeping millions of Filipinos below the poverty line.
”Corruption has been here forever. It’s a matter of minimising it, really,” chief economist of the Department of Finance Gil Beltran said.
Much infrastructure and whatever semblance of social development enjoyed by small towns and cities such as Tacloban and Ormoc — the two most flattened communities following Yolanda’s visit — rely on “pork barrel” funds dangled in front of their voters by Filipino legislators. Whatever funds “promised” by these politicians for “development” projects get allocated to works that lack scale — the odd waiting shed or “welcome” arch, various small community works, some (according to legend) “scholarship” grants, etc. That is, funds net of whatever “commissions” these politicians feel they are entitled to as a reward for their “generosity” to their constituents.
For real recovery and rebuilding to happen, the leaks in the pipes that channel resources from the millions of eager benefactors and taxpayers need to be plugged and the pilferers of this leakage put away permanently. And once funds make it to where they are supposed to go, the way these are spent need to be well-thought-out. This requires thinking at a depth and scale that has long eluded Filipinos as is evident in the manner with which the same politicians and the same politics continue to infest Philippine society.
[Photo of Japan Defence Forces courtesy XinhuaNet.]
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