In August 2016, two members of the Disaster Support Network for the Philippines (DSNP), myself and Jaki Joanino, participated in a week long program integrating with communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. This trip was hosted by the Leyte Center for Development (LCDe), one of the organizations that NAFCON supported during the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan through the Consortium for People’s Development. Based in the South San Francisco Bay Area of California, DSNP is the last standing formation of Taskforce Haiyan, an initiative that NAFCON helped to establish in response to the massive devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. We transitioned from being South Bay Taskforce Haiyan to DSNP in recognition of the impacted communities’ long-term path to recovery and our group’s commitment to providing support in this path.
To inform DSNP’s continuing work, we coordinated with LCDe to facilitate a program that would provide important context for addressing the persisting needs of those affected by Haiyan and subsequent disasters. LCDe commands important leadership in the Eastern Visayas region with respect to community-based disaster risk management (CBDM) work and we were fortunate to witness this work throughout our trip. LCDe prioritizes working with communities in far-flung areas reach and have higher incidences of poverty. These communities were dramatically impacted by Typhoon Haiyan and suffer damages that continue to this day. A majority relies on farming and fishing for their livelihood, but due to extreme weather events brought on by climate change, struggles to produce an income from these industries that can sustain their communities. When we visited farmers discussed how they noticed extreme weather patterns that affected the growing of food that they would be able to sell for income as well as feed to their families. At the time, they were experiencing a drought that lasted the duration of our stay. Moreover, coconut trees, which played an important role in the region’s economy, were decimated by Haiyan. It will take ten years for new trees to grow and reach the same level of production that farmers had seen before the storm. That is, given other disasters do not damage the ones that are currently growing. The Eastern Visayas region as a whole is now the poorest in the Philippines.
Following the CBDM model, LCDe strives to work with communities to build infrastructure which will better support themselves, emphasizing the need for communities to build people’s organizations that can manage the resources provided to them. As part of our itinerary, we had the opportunity to observe a two-day disaster risk reduction training facilitated by LCDe staff to community members in Barangay Rubas of Jaro, Leyte. During the training, participants identified potential hazards that their community was vulnerable to, including typhoons, floods, landslides, sickness, and even armed conflict, and assessed their possible impacts. The following day, based on the prior day’s discussion, community members evaluated their capacity to prepare themselves as well as respond should a disaster occur. Topics discussed ranged from possible evacuation routes to creating a calendar that could anticipate when disasters would happen. At the conclusion of the training, community members reported back on their discussions which would then form the backbone of a disaster risk reduction plan. As next steps, LCDe will work with the residents of Rubas to host a community drill and establish a Disaster Preparedness Committee. These steps will pave the way for the people of Rubas to build their leadership in a way that will bring them closer to how they hope their community to be in spite of disasters.
In light of the work DSNP hopes to further build, it was critical for us to see what it means to provide people-to-people support on the ground in areas that are vulnerable to disasters of an increasingly larger scale. Communities such as those we visited face the brunt of consequences brought on by environmental degradation and exploitation which is often compounded by government neglect and corruption rampant in the Philippines. LCDe’s work addresses this further marginalization of these communities and continues to build upon the support that many of us contributed when Haiyan initially hit. They work not only to be the first responders when disasters strike, but also increasing the capacity of communities themselves to be resilient in the face of what disasters and environmental injustice may bring.
By Julian Jaravata