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‘Humanitarian relapse’ feared in Yolanda-hit areas

Posted On 2014 Apr 02
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Aerial shot of the province of which was heavily damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (MNS photo)

Aerial shot of the province of which was heavily damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (MNS photo)

TACLOBAN (Mabuhay) -– International agencies and development groups have stepped up funding efforts amid cries for help from local governments and ‘Yolanda’ victims, but the national government has yet to fullfill its end of the bargain.

Almost five months after Yolanda, a significant number of people still live in tents, while infrastructure projects have yet to pick up.

“If there’s a relapse in humanitarian situation after June, when the United Nations pulls out [from Leyte], the situation may get much worse. Now, it’s stable and may not stay that way,” German Aid Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) Chief Advisor for Local Governance Dr. Andreas Lange said.

On the sidelines of the Donors Forum that GIZ organized here in Tacloban, Lange noted the slow downloading of investments earmarked for rehabilitation.

It is the national government which administers the whole process, but its plan of action has yet to materialize, he said.

“It’s now a matter for the national government to do the coordinating part. Someone has got to be in charge and has to take the lead quickly – by quickly, we mean this quarter or second quarter, and not
2015,” he added.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) was invited to the 3-day forum, but was a no-show.

‘LGUs are ready’

GIZ Program Advisor for Environment and Rural Development Program Max Baumann noted that local government units (LGUs) have already done their part in assessing the needs of affected residents.

“They’re already there to download the funds… It doesn’t matter if [the funds] will come from the international partners or the national government, but the LGUs already did their homework and it sends a strong signal to the whole world that they’re ready,” he said.

During the forum, around P167 million was pledged for 18 municipalities and one province, with 111 identified projects. A total of 28 donors attended, including NGOs such as Red Cross, Oxfam, etc.

Lange said the donor community, from the very beginning, has always been open to suggestions of the national government on how it can help.

Transparency still a big challenge

Transparency is another issue still clouding the rehabilitation of Yolanda-hit areas, and the national government has yet to answer it fully.

Lange said transparency in fund use “is a very big challenge. The donor agencies have their own monitoring procedures… The problem is the non-foreign-managed subjects. They [OPARR] said they’re going to monitor it, but we don’t see yet the system – how is this going to work in reality.”

Lange said that in procurement procedures, there will always be “leakages” especially since the rehabilitation process is pressed for time.

Baumann said that while the issue of “transparency” is paramount, it can also be overwhelming for the local governments wanting to recover from the massive destruction brought by the super typhoon.

He said the government can always develop a system – by tapping the United Nations – which the LGUs can comply with. “It should be a transparent-enough system, but it should also allow everyone to focus on the implementation.”

Lange said there should be, at some point, a trade-off between transparency and effectiveness. “We can talk about monitoring tools for the next two years, but in the end, no money will get to be spent.”

He said targeting, timing, and monitoring are very crucial. As time passes, several problems would creep in.

He cited, for example, the issue of the cost of construction materials. The cost depends on supply and demand, which would, in effect, mean higher costs due to strong demand for materials.

“The whole government structure is totally challenged. Meanwhile, the geographical scale of Yolanda [destruction] is really immense,” Lange added. (MNS)

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