Debris on the streets of Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan

Tacloban in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, 2013. Photo: Eoghan Rice, Trócaire / Wikimedia Commons .

Seven years ago this week, the Philippines was struck by super-Typhoon Haiyan, and has been hit with numerous typhoons since, including Super-Typhoon Rolly (Goni) and Typhoon Molave (Quinta) within the last weeks alone, all on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. In remembrance of these disasters, we are sharing insights from our most recent research with one of the resettled communities in the area. This work focused on one of the 31 permanent resettlement communities to which people living in informal settlements along the coast were moved as a part of the Tacloban Redevelopment and Reconstruction Plan (TRRP), developed during the post-disaster recovery phase. Conducted together with a researcher from a local university, UP Visayas Tacloban College, this work built on earlier research we have done in the area since 2015.

The TRRP prioritized residents and families in need of housing in these communities. New residents participated in building their own homes, as well as in various livelihoods programmes that were organised by public and non-profit organisations. Despite these support schemes, our research revealed, there were differences in how people in the community were able to recover, which were still evident four years after the super-Typhoon event. Livelihoods were central to this issue.

Livelihoods are often problematic in post-disaster circumstances. They are one of the resources that people can use to improve their own resilience – to recover from their losses, adapt to a new environment and start a new life. For many of these community residents, this meant dealing with the loss of loved ones, as well as all of their material things, moving 20 kilometers inland from the coast to the hills, having to give up previous livelihoods, and losing their formal social networks.

Livelihoods interventions, which are essentially aimed at supporting long-term equitable resilience, run the risk of failure if they overlook the realities faced by community members. Below are three examples of how livelihoods programmes failed to leverage their opportunity to promote equitable resilience in this post-disaster situation.

Favouring a cash-based economy

While training people for livelihoods based on a cash economy might sound like the obvious way to help them recover, there were some issues which were overlooked. For example, those already involved in the cash economy or those with access to cash through other means were better prepared than others, in terms of resources, technical skills  and entrepreneurial mindsets. For some, switching to a livelihood which depended on those things was a challenging personal, cultural or lifestyle shift– even when their families’ survival depended on it. Also, some livelihoods programmes failed to recognise how people along the coast diversified their livelihood strategies by supplementing their incomes with subsistence fishing or collecting seafood to feed their families.

Reinforcing existing societal structures

While livelihood support schemes were operated and funded by external, and sometimes international, organizations, local partners were often used in their implementation. Working with local partners is essential due to their in-depth local knowledge and connections. However, oversight and trust is needed to avoid reinforcing potentially inequitable social structures which put programme aims at risk. In times of crisis, in particular, it is possible that local organizations reinforce biases because they are too close to the problem or because the people in these organizations also want to help those closest to them.

In our Tacloban community, one such local partner was the community board of directors, which disseminated information about the livelihoods schemes, selected the beneficiaries and distributed the support. In our research, it was reported that in carrying out these activities, the Board’s officials made decisions which they favoured their own connections over others who may have been in greater need of support, mirroring pre-existing patterns of patron-client politics. This resulted in some people, who were already in a compromised situation, having less access to benefits.

Overlooking the influence of gendered roles

In the Philippines, women are often tasked with the domestic duties, such as looking after children and the home. For such reasons, many women were interested in participating in livelihoods schemes, such as the selling of rice or other products, which would allow them to work from their home. However, this led to an oversupply of these types of services within the community and resulted in their low profitability. For households dependent on the womens’ income, this led to further impoverishment.

The post-disaster recovery and redevelopment phase is a challenging situation to work in. People are often still suffering deeply and are in need in multiple ways. It is also a phase where support measures, such as livelihoods schemes, need to be implemented quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively. Often, the solution is rolled out as standard programme. In reality, however, the only way to truly respond to people’s needs is to know and understand the community. This can be done through early and meaningful engagement of residents in the planning of these livelihoods programmes, which have a dramatic impact on their lives. This is often seen as a trade-off: tailored schemes, which are based on meaningful and early engagement but require more resources vs. standard schemes, which are quick to implement in different post-disaster situations and cost-effective. However, if disaster risk reduction efforts such as relocation are to support the long-term recovery and development of these communities, this is a trade-off that we must figure out how to overcome.