One Year Later: The Road to Resilience After Typhoon Haiyan

Posted by Nancy Lindborg

USAID Provides Humanitarian Aid to Help the People of the Philippines in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan

This week a year ago, I was in the Philippines, flying with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team in a C-130 to Tacloban in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda). The strongest storm in recorded history, Haiyan hit on November 8, 2013, killing more than 6,000 people, displacing 4.1 million, and affecting 16 million in total -- about 14 percent of the country’s total population. Flying into Tacloban, I saw a flattened landscape littered with what looked like matchsticks -- the splintered remains of homes, businesses and millions of coconut trees. The damage was immense.

The Philippine Government estimates the typhoon caused $12.7 billion in losses. More than a million homes were damaged or destroyed, and 33 million coconut trees, a source of income for many Filipinos, were wiped out. As the average growth span of a coconut tree is 12 years, the storm essentially wiped out a decade of livelihoods for many Filipino families.

While we have seen enormous progress by the Philippines to build back better, including plans to move 1 million people away from the coast, many of the 4 million people displaced by the storm are still living in temporary shelters. The Philippines continues to lose up to $5 billion, or 2 percent of its gross domestic product, each year to recurring natural disasters.

The Philippines’ steady but tough recovery one year after Haiyan underscores the importance of investing in resilience -- of helping people, communities, countries and systems survive and recover from acute shocks and stresses.

Far from being an isolated incident, Haiyan is part of a litany of natural disasters that are coming faster and harder each year thanks to climate change. Research suggests that, as our oceans become warmer, the severity of storms will inevitably increase. The number of reported disasters has already nearly tripled since 1980, and the cost of those disasters is up 300 percent, to $200 billion every year.

As Haiyan illustrates, when disaster strikes, the most vulnerable populations are the hardest hit, often without a chance to recover before the next shock hits them. Many of the communities affected by Haiyan already had poor infrastructure, which was devastated by the storm.

We know that droughts, typhoons, and other disasters will continue to happen. By investing in resilience, USAID has pledged to help the world’s most vulnerable get ahead of these recurring shocks. We have changed the way we do business to help communities adapt, mitigate and manage the risks that will inevitably come. These efforts include bringing our humanitarian and development teams together to integrate, layer and sequence our relief and development resources around the shared aim of reducing persistent emergencies by addressing underlying vulnerabilities.

Climate change adaptation is critical to mitigating the impact of disasters like Haiyan, and USAID is investing in these efforts. We are part of the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund, a $140 million partnership with the Department for International Development and the Rockefeller Foundation targeting infrastructure projects in Asian cities. We also launched the Pacific American Climate Fund, a $24 million program that provides grants to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In the aftermath of Haiyan, our humanitarian assistance of over $90 million helped the Philippines not only bounce back, but rebuild livelihoods and build up stronger systems to weather future shocks. Our Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance deployed people before the storm hit so we were prepared to provide immediate assistance to help save lives. We quickly turned our cash assistance programs into cash-for-work and cash-for-training activities, including emergency employment programs that engaged 118,000 people in essential reconstruction efforts to clear debris, repair more than 1,500 kilometers of roads, and restore services in 560 schools, 220 rural health care centers and more than 30 hospitals.

We also provided skills training and micro-enterprise and small business support to the most vulnerable populations, particularly small-scale coconut farmers. USAID joined together with Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola to help revive economic activity and livelihoods in Leyte, the province worst hit by the typhoon. These efforts helped restore damaged or destroyed sari-sari stores (small community stores) in public markets, and jump-start business by providing store owners access to micro-financing loans.

And we continue to seek the best ideas for building resilience in advance of a crisis. USAID joined forces with the Rockefeller Foundation and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency earlier this fall to launch the Global Resilience Partnership, which aims to catalyze innovation and scale what is already working in resilience efforts by bringing in new actors, including the private sector and academia. With an initial investment of $150 million from the three partners, the Partnership will help to drive evidence-based investments that enable cities, communities and households to better manage and adapt to inevitable shocks.

The Partnership’s first activity is the Global Resilience Challenge, a call for the creation of teams from all sectors to come together to produce locally driven, high-impact solutions to resilience challenges (application deadline: November 30). Our focus will be in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia -- areas with high resilience needs.

Through the Partnership, we seek to create a community of practice to strengthen resilience globally. In the face of shocks and stresses caused by epidemics, fragility and our planet’s changing climate, we need all-in ideas and solutions. The Partnership is an important effort to learn from disasters like Haiyan, build preparedness for the future, and help the world’s most vulnerable get on a solid path toward development.

About the Author: Nancy Lindborg serves as the USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on the USAID Impact Blog

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