Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Gawad-Kalinga-building-homesTo read a news report that only 142 units of permanent homes have been done after almost one year from Yolanda’s destruction is truly saddening. It is also shocking.
In one gathering hosted or moderated by an international foundation or NGO, with other NGOs and key government agencies attending, the pitiful state of government bureaucracy and the moribund mindset it spawns is highlighted. And it highlights as well that even international NGOs and institutions have much in common with the reality of bureaucracy and the inability to perform out of the box in post-disaster situations.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the US states from Florida to Texas and caused 1,800 deaths, there was pandemonium in the relief and rescue work, and serious paralysis in the rehabilitation phase. It did not look very much as though it was the United States of America that was managing a post-disaster situation. It also scares me today because it may be the same scenario for Yolanda victims that years, not months, have become the basic standard of measure. It also has lowered my sense of confidence that the Western expertise know much more than just having, and expending, huge resources.
It is good to note that looting and violence erupted after Katrina struck, and a very high percentage of Americans blamed their government at different levels, starting with the Bush leadership itself. Katrina was only in August of 2005, or nine years ago. Compared to Yolanda, and compared to the level of development of the United States, our government response fared as well or as badly.
The Southeast Asian tsunami of December 2004, just 8 months before Katrina, killed over 200,000 people with Indonesia suffering the most in terms of deaths. Everywhere was pandemonium as well and would have made our situation after Yolanda a very mild version. The tsunami had such a massive impact on the lives of people not much better, or actually even worse off, than ours, that the Tamil rebellion in Ache, Indonesia called a truce and a peace agreement signed with the government less than a year later.
In January of 2012, a powerful earthquake hit Haiti. Massive death and destruction matched the force of the earthquake. Funny, though, are the different postures of two governments, theirs and ours. The PNoy administration was criticized for now wanting to give the more popular estimates of deaths caused. It chose to give a death count only on the basis of confirmed deaths. The Haitian government was something else. From the 100,000 to 160,000 estimated deaths of everyone else involved in the relief work, the Haitian government instead tried to claim there were 220,000 to 300,000 deaths. It seemed it was fishing for more international aid.
The head of the Israeli ZAKA International Rescue unit to Haiti said it was like the stories they were told of the Holocaust, thousands of bodies everywhere, that it was true madness, that as time passed, more and more bodies in numbers that could not be grasped. Of course, sporadic looting and violence erupted as well.
Because Indonesia and Haiti were considered “poor” countries, international aid was massive. I have not made enough research to attempt a comparison, as pledges of aid to the Philippines intended for rehabilitating the provinces affected by Yolanda have not all been received. In fact, there may be more not received than already received. But the effort must be made, even by just a Gawad Kalinga worker like myself, to learn lessons from what others did after great calamities struck their people.
The glaring failures of all three examples from Katrina in the US, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and the earthquake in Haiti, can better explain why the Philippine response is failing as well. Failure here is largely time-based, that the suffering of disaster victims is unduly extended. The failure here, too, is that we are not learning fast enough, or not learning about the more important reasons why, even with the best of intentions, we cannot produce enough results.
I wanted to understand my shock at reading the report of “less than 1%” referring to the relocation and permanent shelter of Yolanda victims. It is more than just the “less than 1%” but the implication for the future. The “less than 1%” is acceptable if the 99% is coming within the next 12 months. But it is almost criminal if the less than 1% is representative of a pace that will end 20 years from now.
Because Gawad Kalinga is a private foundation, an NGO, it is not obligated to go through all of the red tape, or bureaucracy, that government agencies would have to do. But the template for relocation and permanent housing is largely the same, and established by Gawad Kalinga because of its involvement in previous disasters. In fact, the earlier experiments were done with DSWD. While a private group, basic conditions remain the same for NGOs or government. The need for safer areas for relocation is common to all, requirements for building new homes on a socialized basis are the same. In other words, in the most basic of requirements, there are not great differences.
The startling contrast is a most shameful one. It is when rules and regulations stand in the way like immovable obstacles when their highest purpose should be to ensure the most effective service to the people. I have seen the perverted flip of priority cause great misery for many when rules and regulations become laws that guarantee failure instead of facilitating efficiency. Beyond the Philippine government is a world of even more powerful institutions and NGOs. They, too, are conforming to rules and regulations at the cost of their very reason for existence.
Are we brave enough to set aside, even discard, layers of control for the sake of our suffering people? Can we choose to perform instead of fail? Or will we insist that distrust be the defining feature of our operating system?

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