Cash-for-work Program Rekindles Community Life in Typhoon-Hit Philippines

Feature | 25 March 2014

Cash-for-work program is providing an income lifeline for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in Central Philippines, empowering them to rebuild communities with their own hands.

Rodrigo Navarrosa, a farmer in the central Philippines saw his livelihood disappear before his eyes when Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, smashed into his crops in November 2013. The 52-year old was left despairing over how he and his family would survive in the wake of the devastating storm. But now a cash-for-work community program has given him, and many others like him, new hope.

"I am very grateful for this work as I was wondering how I could support my seven children after I lost my income sources," said Mr. Navarrosa, from the community of Basey on the island of Samar.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, roared through the centre of the country including Samar and Leyte islands on 8 November 2013, leaving thousands dead and a massive trail of destruction in its wake. It was the strongest recorded typhoon in Philippine history.

"The cash-for-work program is empowering people to build up their own communities again with their own hands"

- Carin van der Hor, Country Director for Plan International Philippines

The timing of the storm was especially bad for farmers coming just before harvesting a new crop of rice in November or December. Mr. Navarrosa, who rents a hectare of paddy land for rice growing, and also has vegetable crops and coconut trees, lost all his rice and vegetables and about half of his trees.

Helping communities restore livelihoods has been one of the most pressing needs of the post-typhoon recovery effort which has drawn support from national and international donors, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The cash transfer program that Mr. Navarrosa is engaged in is being carried out by Plan International, an international nongovernment organization (NGO) that has worked in the Philippines since 1961. The program is also supported by the European Union's humanitarian aid and civil protection department (ECHO).

The program, which is currently targeting about 12,900 families in typhoon-affected areas, will soon get fresh assistance following the signing of a $20 million grant agreement between the Government of the Philippines and ADB.

Part of the grant assistance, which comes from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, will be earmarked for the Plan International's cash transfer program. ADB is administering the grant.

Communities rebuilding

The program ensures communities hit by the storm can play a grassroots role in rebuilding community infrastructure.

"Thousands of poor families are expected to participate in the early stages of reconstruction through daily cash-for-work activities including cleaning debris, or repairing public buildings such as schools and hospitals, and other rural facilities," said Richard Bolt, Director of ADB's Philippines country office.

Romeo Navarrosa, 43, is one of about 20 workers from the same community in Basey who is cleaning debris from a river which is the main source of irrigation water for the farming community.

"I am happy not only because I can earn some cash but also because I can make a contribution to the community," he said.

The target locations, beneficiaries, and specific work projects are determined by the NGO, in conjunction with feedback from the communities themselves.

"The cash-for-work program is empowering people to build up their own communities again with their own hands," said Carin van der Hor, country director for Plan International in the Philippines.

Rodrigo Navarrosa is now slowly picking up the pieces of his life. Using temporary materials he has made his house habitable again after the storm tore off the roof. And he finished planting a new crop of rice in January. Typically farmers in this part of the country plant two crops of rice a year, or even three, if irrigation permits.

The national government and international organizations have provided the rice and coconut seedlings to allow farmers to sow new crops. It takes over six years to harvest coconut after they plant seedlings.

Rodrigo Navarrosa says he will use cash from the community work program to survive on, until the next harvest in a few months time.

He and other villagers in the program work for 15 days per month for two months (30 days total), and are paid 260 pesos (about $6) a day, a minimum wage set by the national government.

Paving the way for reconstruction

The cash-for-work program is designed to reflect the priority needs of the communities themselves and to complement longer-term measures for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Organizers also expect the activities to provide participants with some basic construction skills in areas such as masonry and carpentry.

"People will have time to gain some skills to work on other community projects," said Ms. Van der Hor of Plan International.

Along with cash-for-work, the program will disburse cash unconditionally to vulnerable households without a member able to participate in work schemes, such as single parent families with very small children and people with disabilities.

The program will also provide training to teachers, parents, and others to help communities' better prepare and respond to new disasters.

Gender sensitive program

The cash-for-work activities are designed to ensure females are not left out.

"We see that when women have access to the household purse strings, children benefit disproportionately," said Ms. Van der Hor of Plan International. "We want the program to be at the very least gender neutral, and preferably gender transformative."