Lessons from Previous Disasters for Rebuilding in the Philippines

November 22, 2013

Although the immediate need for water, food, shelter and medicine remains acute, especially in the province of Leyte, we will soon face the daunting challenge of rebuilding lost communities and displaced lives in the Philippines. Grameen Foundation has been involved in the rebuilding efforts in two of the worst disasters in recent history: the 2004 Tsunami in South and Southeast Asia and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (PDF). While every disaster brings unique challenges, we believe there are lessons from these previous tragedies that can inform our rebuilding efforts in the Philippines:

Engage affected households in identifying other victims:
Feedback from clients and staff suggest that clients themselves are best positioned to understand “how much each one has suffered in a disaster.” For example, Fonkoze, our microfinance partner in Haiti, used its solidarity credit centers “to rank losses of their members after a disaster,” enabling them to direct insurance payouts to those who needed them most.

Immediate cash infusion helps families stabilize and begin the path to recovery:
CARD and NWTF offer small, low-cost emergency loans to help affected borrowers re-start their businesses shortly after a disaster. In Haiti, Fonkoze offered cash grants, which 76% of the clients invested into their businesses.

Better documentation and transparency help ensure that aid reaches the people who need it:
Weak local infrastructure hinders the distribution of aid. The lack of transparency aggravates the problem. Better information will give visibility into the direction, magnitude and pace of relief services. Better information will also reveal deficiencies in the system, and uncover patterns of coping that can help us design more effective programs in the future.

Repayment rates on post-disaster loans are generally high, indicating that clients are beginning to re-establish their livelihoods:
One year after the earthquake in Haiti, the repayment rate of Fonkoze clients reached 97%, which surpassed even pre-earthquake levels. Development practitioners have long witnessed the strength and resiliency of poor households. The high loan repayment rates indicate “that clients are managing their credit well and earning an income once again.”

Short spending horizons lead to unwise expenditures:
Most of the relief organizations working in Indonesia were given a maximum of three years to spend all of the aid money they received. Towards the end of the program, nearly every affected family in Aceh had three boats that remained unused. To ensure accountability, we need to define a portion of the aid money that needs to be spent in the short-term. But we also need to set aside a portion of the aid money that should be used to address the evolving needs of the affected households.

Aid provides relief, companions offer hope:
A Fonkoze client said, “my credit agent was the first person to come looking for me after the earthquake. When I saw him, I had hope, because I knew Fonkoze had not abandoned me.” More than any bag of relief goods or any emergency loan, what gives people hope is the belief that they are not suffering alone. Our allies on the ground don’t just deliver aid or capital;  they are also bearers of compassion and renewal.  

You can find more resources from our experience in post-disaster recovery here.