This article originally appeared in The Asia Foundation's blog, In Asia, on November 20, 2013.
By Jowil Mejia Plecerda and Reyna Clemeña-Deloso
Less than one month after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake destroyed areas of Bohol province in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines, Typhoon Yolanda(international name Haiyan), said to be one of the most powerful storms ever to hit land, struck the same region, flattening entire towns on the islands of Leyte and Samar just north of Bohol.
According to government estimates, Yolanda has affected 13 million people in nine regions, with nearly 40 percent of those people living in Central Visayas. Among the areas affected was Bohol, still recovering from the earthquake that directly affected more than 3.2 million people. The UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) reported that the earthquake displaced 370,836 individuals, 80 percent of whom were still living in makeshift shelters built in open spaces near their damaged homes. This includes 50,000 children, and about 13,300 pregnant and 22,900 lactating women at high risk of acute malnutrition. Economy-wise, the effect of the earthquake was also substantial. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) estimated the damage to infrastructure and agriculture to be about $51 million. The Provincial Government of Bohol has also estimated the loss in the tourism sector to be around $1.1 million based on cancelled bookings when the earthquake struck.
While Bohol in general was spared the worst of Yolanda’s wrath, some of the same areas that were badly affected by the earthquake sustained significant damage, which further complicated relief operations. For example, the Bohol Local Development Foundation (BLDF) reported that infrastructure and homes in four municipalities (Inabanga, Getafe, Talibon, and Bien Unido) were damaged during the typhoon, further increasing the number of homeless and displaced. Several of these residents already living in temporary shelters and evacuation centers were ordered evacuated by the governor prior to Yolanda’s landfall. NDRRMC placed the total number of affected villages in Bohol at 198 directly affecting 90,752 families or about 435,604 individuals. It also placed the number of damaged houses at 295, of which 71 were totally damaged and 224 were partially damaged. The BLDF also reported that the municipalities of Antequera and Cortes experienced massive landslides as a result of heavy rains brought about by Yolanda.
In addition, the power loss caused by Typhoon Yolanda has affected relief operations to and slowed down rehabilitation work in areas that were just picking up the pieces. As of this writing, most parts of Bohol, whose main source of power comes from typhoon-ravaged Leyte province, remained without electricity. According to the NDRRMC, 43 of 49 towns remain without power. This has affected water distribution and rendered electrical water purifying machines in evacuation centres useless and the storage of important vaccines for children very difficult. The tourism industry – an important sector and a big source of employment for Bohol – has also been severely set back as more tourists cancel trips, particularly after the energy secretary said that power outages could last until December 24. “For sure there will be more guest cancellations for Christmas and New Year’s,” Cornelis de Wijn, general manager at Anda White Beach Resort in Bohol, told The Wall Street Journal. “It will (cause) a big impact on all the resort owners, because it’s our main season.”
In addition, already limited government resources for post-disaster relief now had to be spread to respond to the disasters that happened in Bohol as well as Leyte and Samar within less than a month of each other. In this context, effective local response to fill the gaps is even more critical.
It is in times of local response to disasters that the Filipino’s adaptability, spirit ofbayanihan (community spirit), and damayan (helping each other) is most demonstrated. In the aftermath of the typhoon, there were numerous stories of heroism and unity arising from local responses in the severely affected provinces of Leyte and Samar. For example, the Department of Public Works and Highways has recently commended the Public Contractor’s Association for mobilizing their own heavy equipment from nearby provinces to help in the clearing operations.
In Bohol, the same local responses were evident in the aftermath of the earthquake and typhoon. After the earthquake, several organizations and individuals responded to the call for help, including the Bohol Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Incorporated (BCCI) in close partnership with the provincial government and other civil society organizations. Several informal, online coalitions were established, including the Hope for Bohol and Padayon (“continue”) Bohol. These social media networks became virtual message boards and resources for mobilization efforts. They also served as story boards for acts of heroism, kindness, and hope. Initially, pictures were posted depicting the devastation brought about by the earthquake. One could almost hear the collective gasp over pictures posted online of the severe damage on centuries-old churches – which serve both as tourist attractions and important places of worship to Boholanos. Eventually, pictures showing hope and survival became the norm.
BCCI immediately called on its members, who in their own ways were also responding to the disaster (for instance, the First Consolidated Bank was also doing relief operations), to provide help to earthquake-affected communities. As of November 12, it was able to distribute 11,081 relief packs to 55 villages in 18 towns. BCCI also facilitated Water Filtration Unit assistance to affected communities and debriefing program and activities for children.
There were also partnerships with the provincial government, national government agencies, and civil society. Among the key undertakings was the Diskwento (“discounted”) Caravan led by the Department of Trade and Industry. The Discounted Caravan is a rolling store brought to affected communities making available basic goods and necessities at discounted prices. Governor Edgar Chatto eventually designated BCCI and the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tagbilaran as the official partners of the provincial government in accepting donations and in relief and rehabilitation. As a result, BCCI was able to mobilize help and resources from outside Bohol including from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chambers of commerce in other cities and provinces, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, Feed the Hungry Inc., Filipino United Network-USA, and The Asia Foundation.
The additional support enabled some members of the loose, virtual coalition to convene a formal meeting. For example, BCCI was able to host a merienda (light meal) and convened various organizations in Bohol involved in disaster response. The objective of the meeting was to coordinate efforts and fast-track the discussion on longer-term solutions to the effects of the earthquake and responses to future disasters in Bohol.
The same coordinated local response was evident in the preparation for Typhoon Yolanda’s arrival. Hope for Bohol’s Facebook page, for example, was replete with messages on the dangers of the coming typhoon and provided tips and disseminated emergency contact numbers.
Despite the double onslaught, Bohol is once again on the path to recovery, thanks in part to the strength of local civil society and businesses coming together. On Nov. 29, 2013, this coming together will again be seen in the first meeting of the newly minted Bohol Roads Investments Board (BRIB), a multi-stakeholder coordinating body for roads investments with support from The Asia Foundation. Hopefully, the BRIB will factor in disasters, preparedness, and quality in road infrastructure decisions. In doing so, it will put in place a mechanism and effective policy for local disaster response.
Jowil Plecerda is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Subnational Governance program in the Philippines. Reyna Deloso is the executive director of the Bohol Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Bohol Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a partner of The Asia Foundation in its Coordinating Road Investment initiative under the Coalitions for Change Program. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.