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By Patrick Fuller in Malaysia
Two months ago, Super Typhoon Bopha made landfall in the Philippines bringing with it winds of 160mph (260km/h). Bopha cut a swathe of destruction across the southern island of Mindanao, claiming the lives of over 1,000 people as it tracked across the island. Coconut and banana plantations were flattened and 216,000 homes were left damaged or totally destroyed.
Today, close to a million people remain in their damaged homes, or in makeshift shelters where their houses once stood. According to the Shelter Cluster – an inter-agency coordination platform that brings together local and international humanitarian organisations that are responding to emergency shelter needs in Mindanao – barely 20 per cent of this population has received help to make repairs to their houses.
Compared with other natural disasters of a similar scale, the donor response to Bopha has been muted, despite the Philippine Government’s appeal for international assistance. The storm also received little attention in the international media. Competing against Syria for headlines, the story dropped off the TV screens within days. With scant media coverage, the job of humanitarian fundraisers was made even more difficult in the full knowledge that levels of awareness just weren’t high enough to support public appeals.
Globally, the Philippines is ranked one of the top five disaster prone countries. Over the past decade, an average of 20 typhoons have made landfall every year and initial estimates of the damages caused by Typhoon Bopha stand at 840 million Swiss francs (USD 925 million). Yet despite being hazard-prone, the Philippines is widely perceived by donors as a middle-income country; less deserving of humanitarian assistance than some of its neighbours.
The response to Bopha hasn’t been helped by the global financial crisis, which has put a squeeze on humanitarian aid budgets and affected levels of public giving to disasters overseas. The paradox is that, while donors view the Philippines as more developed and less deserving, when a major disaster strikes, those development gains become fragile as people’s vulnerability increase dramatically.
Mindanao is one of the poorest regions of the Philippines. Development has lagged behind other parts of the country, hindered in part by various long-running insurgencies over four decades, which have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. As is often the case, it has been the rural poor who have been hit hardest and this has a wider impact on the local economy. Areas such as Compostela Valley and Davao represent the fruit-bowl of the country, exporting thousands of tons of bananas each year, but overnight the commercial plantations were destroyed and thousands of workers lost their livelihoods.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is one of the few agencies committed to providing households with shelter repair kits – tools, materials and the knowhow to build back better. However, the current funding reality means that only a third of the 15,000 shelter repair kits and just 700 of 4,000 cyclone-resilient houses included under the IFRC’s emergency appeal can be procured.
Without support in all sectors, in particular shelter and livelihoods, already fragile communities will be left vulnerable to future disasters and their situation will deteriorate with the onset of the next storm season.
If a category 5 super-typhoon – the highest mark on the scale – does not warrant donor attention, the future looks bleak.
Patrick Fuller has just returned from a mission to the Philippines where he witnessed the devastating effects of Typhoon Bopha and the problems that are exacerbated when a disaster is overshadowed or ignored by the media and international donors.