Road to recovery in Philippines must be built for sustainable human development

“The way forward for the UN team in the Philippines is to continue working with partners and the Government to build back stronger, making communities more resilient and sustainable,” said Haoliang Xu, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, at the UN Development Programme (UNDP).Briefing reporters at UN Headquarters in New York on the ongoing relief efforts and the recovery planning process following Typhoon Haiyan, Mr. Xu said that “street by street and bucket by bucket,” the UN and international relief and development teams are helping the Philippines and its people on the road to recovery and sustainable development. He began his briefing with an update on the massive humanitarian effort under way in the wake of the Typhoon, which killed over 5,230 people, left more than 1,600 missing, and affected over 13 million others. Indeed, providing humanitarian relief to survivors remains a priority for the UN and its partners on the ground. To date, said Mr. Xu, the UN system, its partners and the Philippines Government had worked to provided 3 million people with rice, high-energy biscuits and other food products. In addition, more than 10,000 families have received housing materials; over 750 teachers have received advice as part of a strategy to ensure that all children return to school in January; some 17,000 families are receiving rice and corn seeds for the coming season; and thousands are being recruited for short term employment opportunities such as the UNDP-led “cash-for-work” initiative.As for the recovery effort, he said the goal is to help people return to normalcy by putting children in schools, getting men and women back to work, reopening hospitals and re-launching basic public services. “This is the road to recovery – building back communities able to withstand future super storms,” he added.That effort included the launch by UNDP early last week of a cash-for-work programme, an emergency employment initiative bridging the transition between the humanitarian and reconstruction phases. The majority of the schemes focus on debris removal and the restoration of livelihoods, he said. “Our objectives include clearing debris to allow easy access for aid to reach affected households; enabling people to bring home much needed income; injecting cash into the local economy; and developing ownership in the recovery process,” Mr. Xu said, adding that the scheme also reduced the risk of disease by ensuring the proper disposal of waste.Some 345 workers were currently taking part in the UNDP plan, and the expectation is for that number to increase to 500 by tomorrow. The goal is to reach 10,000 by the end of the year. He said that according to Government policies, the workers are paid the equivalent of $6 a day and each person can hold a job for up to 15 days. He added that all the workers wear protective gear and are vaccinated against tetanus.Further, Mr. Xu said that every effort is being made to ensure that the jobs were getting to those that need them. In that regard, the cash-for-work programme has thus far rolled out in two schools, and two hospitals, among other sites, in hard-hit Tacloban. He had visited some of the sites during his trip to the region last week, and while the needs were great, “this is a very positive development” and he had been able to see the psychology on the ground beginning to change once people started going back to work.In addition to cash-for-work programmes, UNDP’s recovery plan includes, among other efforts, providing start-up kits and quick grants for small business developments, for instance in solar and wind energy. The agency is also working to rehabilitate social and commercial infrastructure such as farms and markets, providing mobile sawmills and establishing workshops for carpenters to recycle fallen timber into housing materials.The agency estimates that it will need some $38 million to carry out its programmes in the Philippines over the next 12 months, he said, emphasizing that the way forward for UN agencies on the ground will include building stronger, more resilient communities through, among other aims, improving early warning systems, educating children about disaster preparedness, building evacuation shelters, planting mangroves and bringing access to renewable energy to remote communities. “The road to recovery must also be the road to sustainability,” he said, adding that this effort must start with debris removal through cash-for-work schemes. “So bucket by bucket, street by street, we will set the communities on the path to recovery and sustainable human development.”