Richard Bolt, Country Director of ADB's Philippines Country Office, explains how one year after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Central Philippines, the country is now ready to move on from a phase of emergency and recovery to building back better much-needed infrastructure and services.


Title: Typhoon Yolanda One Year On: Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction

Description: Richard Bolt, Country Director of ADB's Philippines Country Office, explains how one year after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Central Philippines, the country is now ready to move on from a phase of emergency and recovery to building back better much-needed infrastructure and services.

Richard S. Bolt
Country Director of Philippines Country Office
Asian Development Bank

Q: What were the impacts of Typhoon Yolanda in terms of damage and loss?
A: In terms of the impact of the storm, first 6,200 lives were lost, compared in Aceh this number was roughly 20,000, the lost of life was very high in the Visayas. Secondly the impact on housing were roughly a million homes were damaged or destroyed. The impact on livelihood was also very severe, affecting 600,000 hectares of land and roughly 33 million coconut trees were damaged or rendered unproductive. So, the impact on housing and livelihood of the storm was massive. Similary, many homes were also places for business – small businesses, micro businesses, sari-sari stores, cottage industries and so forth. So when homes were destroyed, these businesses were also destroyed. So, the impact on livelihood was very large indeed.

In terms of the impact on social services, roughly, 20,000 classrooms were damaged or destroyed. Roughy 400 house centers, similarly damaged or destroyed. So, the impact on social infrastructure has again been large. Likewise, damaged to municipal facilities, municipal halls, services, and so forth; records, people’s records, titles, identity cards, and so forth were also lost, which was also creating a major challenge in terms of affecting reconstruction and providing assistance to individuals in terms of identifying who they are and what kind of assistance are they eligible for.

Q: How is the recovery and reconstruction going given the high expectations of local communities?
A: So far, in the Visayas areas, the relief stage has gone reasonably well. In that, we haven’t seen evidence of, for example, large scale hunger. We haven’t seen evidence of wide spread disease. So, this meant that the relief effort did go reasonably well, even though, you know, the impact on people’s lives is still very severe. The recovery, moving into the reconstruction phase, again establishing the supply chain for simple items such as roofing was again complicated given the number of homes, as I mentioned earlier, nearly a million homes damaged or destroyed, and getting those supply chains reestablished was also complicated process.

The designs, also the design works also complicated. The government has produced its comprehensive plan for recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. This was submitted to the President of the Philippines in August. So in other words, in less than a year of the storm, this was a big effort. Similarly, the initial damage, loss and needs assessment that was carried out under the leadership of the National Economic Development Authority, this was accomplished within two months of the storm. This is the fastest ever that we have a large scale rapid damage loss and needs assessment undertaken and presented to the government and to the donor community.

Those efforts both the initial rapid damage, loss and needs assessment as well as the comprehensive planning has happen within a year, which will be the basis for kicking off the full reconstruction effort.

Q: Which areas are being prioritized in the reconstruction effort?
A: The top priorities identified were shelter, first; and second, livelihoods. Other areas such as infrastructure, particularly road infrastructure, power, there was damage. Roads were relatively less damaged, mostly the issue there was the need to clear the roads to allow vehicles to pass to reach affected town and villages. In the case of power, power was actually restored relatively quickly. The grid remained largely intact. It was more the distribution system that was affected by the services responsible for power have responded fairly quickly. The issue now is having homes to reconnect the power to. If a home is destroyed or damaged to the point that it is unsafe to connect electricity then obviously the reconnection or restoration of power to that home will be delayed.

The impact on water supply was relatively low. For open water sources there were some contamination because of the storm but for pipe water systems the main interruption there was the fact, they had no pumps and no electricity to pump the water to the houses. But the systems themselves were, the damage to the systems themselves were much lower than expected. The damage to social infrastructure was significant and establishing these services, these essential social services is important. Again, to provide normality as quick as possible to the lives of people who first of all need access to health services, secondly to get children back in the school. So, they feel that their lives are returning to normal as well.

Q: How is ADB working with the government and others involved in the reconstruction?
A: The approach that ADB has taken on this from the onset is, we see the government as very much the lead. When we started the work on the support in preparing the reconstruction assistance on Yolanda we felt its very important that the government led that particular exercise and thereby its easy to coordinate not only other agencies but other partners as well. So, we see the government as the lead. In fact, the government has also come up with its comprehensive plan for reconstruction in the area. Again, all of our activities are anchored in that plan and the way we would coordinate with other partners is again assuming that other partners are on plan that helps us facilitate our coordination with other development partners as well.

One other area that the government requested ADB to work on, was the establishment of a multi donor trust fund for Yolanda affected areas. And that trust fund is essentially a way to coordinate partner contributions, development donor, and development partner contributions. The principle of the plan is that it’s again anchored to the government plans itself. The preparation of projects under the plan would be done to the standards used by implementing partners such as the Asian Development Bank or other partners, other international financed institutions should they commit to the trust fund. So that way, it provides a basis for pulling funds, ensuring that those funds are used to implement projects prioritized by the government but also ensures the project preparation is done to high international standards as well as implementation of those projects.

Q: What lessons did ADB learn from responding to Typhoon Yolanda?
A: Everytime ADB gets involved in the reconstruction effort following a major disaster – the Indian Ocean tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan, floods in Thailand, we learn lessons. We learn how to do things better. We also take lessons from particular countries. I think that 2 of the lessons that we took away from Aceh, which we are trying to apply here: first of all, in an emergency situation when we’re processing, it’s very important to in order to process assistance as fast as we can to use simplified procedure, use flexibility in terms of long processes and procedures. Second lesson, I think is very important, particularly in the Yolanda case, many of the local government agencies on the ground were themselves severely affected. They were victims, so it’s also very important to consider the capacity of government agencies to implement projects on the ground.

Another important lesson that we picked up from Aceh is an emergency mentality needs to be maintained throughout the reconstruction period. Relief, obviously emergency mentality is important, but this should continue into the recovery and into the reconstruction phase. Every day lost of not returning people’s lives back to at least what they were before affects their welfare. So, we see this emergency mentality, it’s not a business as usual mentality, it needs to be an emergency mentality throughout the reconstruction period.