February 27, 2017, 3:12 pm
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Grappling with the Yolanda problem

THE AQUINO administration faced many challenges during its term, many of which it was able to overcome. One of the biggest it faced however is the significant impact brought by natural calamities, such as when super typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines in 2013, practically wiping out several provinces in the Visayas.

More than two years after the super typhoon, there still remain many a challenge, as the government has yet to complete its reconstruction and rehabilitation programs.

DELAYS

National Economic and Development Authority director general Arsenio Balisacan earlier said that the resettlement of the survivors from the danger zones continues to be the most challenging among the recovery efforts. 

As of end-December, only a total of 13,335 housing units have been completed, with construction of 79,219 houses ongoing and scheduled for completion by December 2016. 

There are 112,574 housing units that have not yet even begun construction.

Balisacan said that among the issues slowing down the building of resettlement sites are policies on procurement and land acquisition and the many required permits and clearances needed to start certain projects. 

NEDA said that it is intensively coordinating efforts to address these policy and implementation issues with the concerned agencies.

In April, President Benigno Aquino III, through Memorandum Order No. 79, transferred the coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of all disaster-related programs, projects, and activities from the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery to NEDA.

The NEDA chief previously said that there is a need to review some of the country’s national laws, policies, and practices that have been getting in the way of resource mobilization and fund disbursement, and have been a major hindrance to project implementation in Yolanda-affected areas.

Balisacan said during the joint press briefing on the Yolanda relief and rehabilitation late last year that the government’s reconstruction efforts were stymied by a whole set of serious policy and implementation issues.

“Given the significant delays that these policies and procedures have caused, these policies need to be reviewed and changed, if necessary,” he said.

UNRECEIVED PLEDGES

When super typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, the world also pledged to help in the rehabilitation and reconstruction in typhoon-hit areas.

However, more than two years after, only 23.5 percent or less than a quarter of the P73.3 billion (roughly $1.64 billion) total foreign aid pledged was received by the Philippines.

According to the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub website which monitors the pledges for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas affected by Yolanda, the foreign aid that was received as of press time is only P17.2 billion or $386 million.

“The problem is that a significant portion of the foreign aid have remained as pledges, while those that may have materialized have not been released directly to the Philippine government, especially for UN (United Nations) agencies, that goes to the UN system,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad earlier said.

Of the total foreign aid pledged, P45.1 billion is supposed to be in cash while P28.2 billion are non-cash pledges.

However, of the total foreign assistance that was received, Abad said that only P1.2 billion in cash and P1.3 billion in non-cash went to the government.

The remaining P14.8 billion was received by non-government organizations, multilateral  institutions, and other non-government groups.

“The ones that need to explain are the NGOs and multilateral institutions (since they received bulk of the foreign aid). People are barking up the wrong tree if the government should explain everything,” Abad said.

“It’s hard to spend money that has not been received,” he added.

The budget chief also said that foreign governments, multilateral organizations, private individuals, and other institutions that have pledged to assist the Philippines should also explain why only a quarter of the pledges actually materialized.

“They also have to explain. The photo opportunities were complete when they came here. Whatever happened to the nice photo ops?” he said.

“On hindsight, I think the international NGOs and multilateral groups, and even the private sector, would have done well in building the capacity of communities and local government units to undertake the rehabilitation and reconstruction projects directly so that we could then be able to release directly through the communities or LGUs, rather than go through the bureaucratic maze from the national government, and then it goes to the regional offices and provincial offices,” he added.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Meanwhile, of end-December 2015, NEDA said that the overall weighted physical accomplishment (OWPA) of completed and ongoing Yolanda programs, projects, and activities stands at 63.2 percent: 30.3 percent completed and 33.1 percent ongoing. 

Most of the ongoing projects are scheduled for completion by 2016.

“The government is making strides in rebuilding resilient communities in the Yolanda corridors in the Visayas regions, as well as in MIMAROPA region, particularly through sustainable infrastructure development and responsive social services,” Balisacan said.

“The reconstructed roads, bridges, ports, telecommunications facilities, as well as health and education facilities, are now subscribing to more stringent structural standards,” he added.

NEDA has noted several areas that are completed or nearing completion of targets based on the agencies’ submissions as of November 15, 2015.

These include the completion of the distribution of 339,745 learning kits to Yolanda-affected schools; almost all the damaged airports (35 out of 37 or 94.6 percent) have been rehabilitated; most municipal facilities (95.5
percent) under the first batch, such as civic centers, municipal halls and public markets, have been rehabilitated; a significant majority (89.21 percent of the total target of 1,852.53 lineal meters) of damaged bridges have been rehabilitated; and majority or 72.4 percent of damaged national roads (77.9 km out of 107.6 km) have been reconstructed.

As of November 15, 2015 submissions, the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) has benefited 788,747 households or 76.3 percent of the targeted 1,033,827 families whose houses were damaged by the typhoon. 

The families with partially damaged houses received P10,000 worth of cash or materials; while families with totally damaged houses received P30,000 worth of cash or materials. 

The ESA was intended to help affected families rebuild sturdier houses provided they are away from the danger zones. Distribution of ESA is still ongoing, NEDA said.

A total of 48,995 Yolanda survivors, or 89.4 percent of the targeted 54,825 beneficiaries, have had their fishing boats repaired or replaced. 

Meanwhile, thousands more received fishing gears and paraphernalia than originally targeted: 76,598 sets were distributed while the original target was 68,636; distribution of an additional 4,779 sets is ongoing.

The distribution of rice and corn seeds is also nearing completion, with 94,020 or 85.7 percent of 101,708 targeted bags distributed to beneficiaries.

In addition to restoring the livelihoods of farmers and fishers, the government has also undertaken ways to provide new livelihood opportunities to survivors; an example of this is the  entrepreneurship training: majority or 80.22 percent of the targeted 364 trainings have already been completed.

BUDGET

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) earlier said that a total of P93.87 billion has been released by the government from 2013 to 2015 to fund projects for Typhoon Yolanda-hit communities. 

Abad said that these were charged against various funding sources in the General Appropriations Act for fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015. 

“Of the total requirement of P150 billion for rebuilding the communities hit by Typhoon Yolanda, we have released a total of P93.87 billion as of October 23, 2015,” the budget chief previously said.

“The scale of the damage is unprecedented. And given that it was unforeseen, the total amount needed for the reconstruction efforts is not something that can be accommodated within the Calamity Fund. So we needed to find various funding sources within the budget,” he said, adding that the government moved to implement various measures to source funds for Yolanda response.

Abad said that around P46 billion is allocated for Yolanda projects in the proposed 2016 budget. The remaining P10 billion was programmed for release in the latter part of 2015.

Of the total amount programmed for this year, P18.9 billion is for the Yolanda Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program, the master plan to build back better infrastructure, livelihood support, resettlement, and social services.  

This is part of the P38.9 billion National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund, a Special Purpose Fund in the 2016 budget. 

Meanwhile, the amount of P25.6 billion was lodged in the budget of the National Housing Authority for the construction of housing units for Yolanda victims. 

P992 million was lodged in the budget of the Local Water Utilities Administration and the amount of P660 million was lodged in the budget of the National Electrification Administration for the installation of water and power lines in Yolanda-hit communities and resettlement sites.
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