MANILA, Philippines — On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (Referred to as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines) struck the central regions of the Philippines, affecting Leyte, Samar and Eastern Samar provinces. Strong winds and heavy rain resulted in widespread damage caused by flooding and landslides.
The aftermath of Yolanda affected 16 million people—damaging or destroying 1.1 million houses, displacing 4.1 million people and directly or indirectly resulting in 6,300 deaths.
The response of the national and international communities was swift and overwhelming. The U.K. has lead the way with over $110 million donated to relief efforts, followed closely by the U.S. and Canada with over $90 million and $60 million donated respectively. According to USAID, as of April 21, international donations have totaled approximately $796 million.
The relief and recovery efforts have targeted a number of areas prioritizing shelter and livelihood programming in order to help the displaced. As of April, recovery efforts had provided 560,000 households—or 2.5 million people—with cooking sets, blankets, mats, plastic sheeting and tents. Another 556,000 people were provided with “tools, construction materials, and technical guidance to repair their own homes.”
The efforts have been tremendously successful. Of the 4.1 million displaced, only 24,000 remain in 62 displacement sites. Still, there is a great deal of work to do after relief efforts have been made. In order to return people to their normal lives and standard of living, recovery efforts must continue to rebuild and repair the country’s infrastructure. While the money and pledges are available, the distribution and use of the relief funds has come under scrutiny of late.
On August 20, Philippines Senate Finance Chair, Francis Escudero submitted a recommendation in his committee report for a special audit of Typhoon Yolanda donations, citing that “there was no single agency in the government that has possession and knowledge of the total amount of local and foreign donations.”
It was noted that the government’s Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH)—a government created portal meant to track donations and provide transparency—does not contain accurate details on the exact pledges and aid that has been received.
According to Escudero, “it captures only the foreign aid pledged and received by the country for the victims of ‘Yolanda.’ It does not include the foreign or local donations that were deposited directly to the accounts of various departments or agencies, or the foreign or local donations received directly by the affected local government units.”
In the wake of all of this there have been calls for increased transparency among the public and foreign donors. Jane Uymatiao of BlogWatch stated that, “a lot of foreign donors have said that they want to know where the aid is going so we’d like to work with the government on this.”
Escudero’s report emphasized the need to institutionalize a legislative mechanism for monitoring and accounting of local and foreign donations during disasters.
Misappropriation of relief funds is one of the darker sides of foreign aid. It is a real problem that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that victims of disasters are being aided effectively and efficiently. Nonetheless, difficulties with transparency should not detract from the successes of the relief and recovery efforts, which by all accounts have been tremendously helpful.
– Pedram Afshar