University Fellow Disseminates Key Findings on Typhoon Yolanda Aftermath Research in 34th Anniversary of DOST-PCHRD Celebration

image1DLSU University Fellow and former SDRC Director Dr. Exaltacion Lamberte shared some key findings of her research on Typhoon Yolanda (TY) with the health sector during the 34th anniversary of the DOST- Philippine Council for Health Research and Development held on March 17, 2016 at the New World Hotel in Makati. Her research dissemination presentation centered specifically on the non-visible damage caused by the Typhoon, thus the title “Moving Forward and Overcoming Challenges: Focus on the Non-Visible Faces of the 11/2013 Typhoon Yolanda Disaster in Leyte”. Being a research grantee of DOST-PCHRD, she was enjoined to speak at one of the organized forum sessions.

The said study was conducted immediately after the occurrence of the typhoon in November 2013. The research ran from December 11, 2013 to September 2015 and included a series of Validation and Consultation sessions. Workshops were held among regional, local government units such as disaster public and private workers/service providers, health personnel, and barangay health leaders.   

At the outset, Dr. Lamberte made clarifications on a key concept being used in disaster research.  For instance, TY should not be labeled as a “disaster”. It was an event that occurred, bringing with it a typhoon surge that was mainly responsible for the heavy damages that affected the people and the area. Thus, unlike the popular notion, a disaster is not anything that refers to something that went wrong or became problematic in one’s action or situation. It is instead an outcome of an event such as TY. What makes a situation a “disaster” is the fact  that the nature and magnitude of the damages are heavy and less likely to be surmountable  The needs of the community affected by disaster cannot be met and overcome by the survivors/residents alone, but rather could be addressed by the help, moves and relief assistance coming from outside entities. Disaster then is an extra-ordinary situation and condition requiring an extra-ordinary response.

When asked about specific policies to recommend, Dr. Lamberte raised points based on results bearing policy implications. First, the disaster affected all communities in the area. But the burden of the damages fell heavily on the children and younger ones. She raised the importance of having evacuation centers with a solid foundation and that are constructed in appropriate locations. A visual she shared showed a “Back to School” announcement. But when assessed, in reality one could question how classes could be held effectively when families who were evacuated to the schools remained in the school buildings. With the unfavorable experiences experienced by students, evacuation centers are deemed important in that they can distract survivors from thoughts and feelings emanating from traumatic experience. This is particularly important for those at an impressionable age.  

Second, damages affected everyone in the communities, irrespective of gender and socio-economic standing. Thus, assistance meant to respond to immediate and basic needs should be equally provided to all survivors, ordinary citizens, and employees of public or private organizations in the areas. Every survivor should be reached out to at all cost to save lives, ensure safety, and to mitigate the extent of damages inflicted on them. In terms of assistance, evidence indicates the following waves of flow of assistance: One, assistance coming from the nearby local communities mattered in the immediate survival of the affected people, which then provided a quick response to basic needs such as water and food. In addition, assistance from nearby provinces and regions flowed to nearby local communities. Two, assistance from the national government and private and non-government organizations was provided—their helping hand and volunteer efforts augmented the provision of support by relief assistance agencies, which followed that of the local entities. Three, bilateral and multi-lateral relief assistance came closely afterwards, particularly in the middle of December 2014 and January 2016. This shows that the first line of help will usually come from the local people, and not from outside areas and sources.

The strength of neighborliness and close social relationships among the local government units matters in the immediate survival of the affected residents. In managing relief assistance and to further make it inclusive and equally distributed, certain situations need policy formulation. The matter of channeling and distributing relief assistance through barangay leaders created problems in logistics and timely distribution of aid to the survivors. Screening and filtering took place. Partisanship played a role here as well—those who were not in the loop did not receive as much as those who were.

Role delineation between local leaders and national government agencies, between local leaders and communities on one hand and foreign organizations/agencies on the other, is critical to the flow of relief aid. Due to the protocol governing the distribution of assistance among foreign organizations and agencies, making them autonomous in selecting communities they could serve, many areas were not reached, while others were doubly received. Thus some communities  had more and others less. Though the system is unseen, such situations affected the immediate distribution of relief assistance.

Second, in a disaster situation much is lost aside from lives—not only property, but the full functioning of selves, of health and well-being, quality of living, important documents, personal/familial and work-related links and relationships. Even greater is the loss of links among institutional bodies and arrangements, vertical and horizontal. Dysfunctions in institutional procedures and connections among individuals and organizations ensued. Thus, with disaster being an extra-ordinary situation, as mentioned earlier, everything becomes fluid, dynamic, yet chaotic at times because defined links and connections are not operational. The worst consequence is the distrust that emerges among people who come to the area, and the confusion, misinformation, and unfounded rumors emanating from loss of effective and workable communication lines. Bureaucracy in the government sector makes the dysfunctions even more problematic. Foremost among these were “functional dysfunctions” or the absence of or non-operational infrastructure, whether soft or hard. Highlighting the non-visible effects is the fact that dead bodies were buried in mass without identification in the earlier days, due to the bureaucratic requirements of the documentation process. Listing of dead and missing persons grew increasingly difficult as the days went by. The other process needing a closer look in terms of policy involves the rules governing the provision of cash funds for the immediate survival and procurement of construction materials and hardware for housing, which needed prior approval (as indicated in the signed sheet/notes) from government agencies or concerned service providers.

Third deals with the behavioral responses of people and the service providers in key facilities, both public and private. The year-to-year occurrence of typhoons made people view the resulting  damages and effects as ordinary and commonplace. Typhoon Yolanda was, from the standpoint and view of the residents, like any other strong typhoon that needed to be faced and lived with. Thus, while most knew the forthcoming event would be strong, everyone was caught by surprise, stricken by panic as well as fear. In spite of house-to-house campaign conducted by the local government including the police and the military, many still refused to go to evacuation centers or places considered safe. Residents—including key emergency service providers—learned the hard way in the end. Losing many lives was a traumatic experience incurring heavy material and non-material damages. 
The specific policies Dr. Lamberte recommended have to do with the key evidence earlier discussed. One, given a decentralized set-up and likelihood of partisanship, it was indicated that from Day 1 of the disaster occurrence to the third month, order in the area and the distribution of relief assistance need to be managed by the national government through the military, although at present the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council is under the Civil Defense Relations Office. The rationale behind this is that the military has the national machinery and adequate logistics (such as ships, airplanes, complete observance/compliance of national vs. regional and local institutional links) that are needed for the provision of relief and assistance to, for example, the injured. Its communication lines are well established. Local leaders and providers could serve during the latter period because they themselves are survivors and must deal with their own concerns. This institutional practice or mode is present even in democratic countries where there is a decentralized system of local governance.

Two, role delineation and system processes have to be established with respect to foreign countries and groups, bilateral and multi-lateral agencies, especially those that do not have country-mission offices in the Philippines. This needs to be done by the national government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and mission/embassy offices through their representatives. This is not a matter of policing control but more of the need for order in the equitable distribution of assistance, and eliminating suspicions about the motives of external or foreign organizations extending assistance.

Three, the most important policy needed involves a systematic and comprehensive enhancement of strong, more-than-resilient Filipinos and communities. This, however, requires behavior change within a planned social change to take place in our society. This stems from the myriad forms of events occurring in the country emanating from hazards/threats such as earthquakes (e.g. predicted forthcoming earthquake in parts of NCR), landslides, flooding, tropical cyclones, storms, epidemics, political conflicts, and other man-made dangers. In her conclusion, Dr. Lamberte shared the lesson/insight she learned: “Survival and Sustained Living are a Creative and Responsive Action of the People, not of actors behind institutions.”