Well now, here I am, coming up to 11 months here in the Philippines, and a lot has changed.
Tacloban is a very different city, with most shops up and running again (with the noticeable exception of McDonalds, whose refurbished grand opening is still being awaited with baited breath here in our bustling office….) 🙂
Organisations and Government officials alike are starting to plan and prepare for the 1-year on anniversary – a useful milestone to reflect on the fantastic achievements of the many many NGOs, Government staff, and others, while also taking stock of the long, long road to recovery ahead.
In my last post, I mentioned the many people still living in temporary shelters, and the risk of increased vulnerabilities as a new typhoon season descends on nervous aid workers and communities alike. NGOs are desperately ramping up their “DRR” (Disaster Risk Reduction) activities in the hope of ticking the box before the next disaster, but with little hope that it will actually achieve very much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in DRR, but training a few communities in how to reduce risks is unlikely to do much for people still living in tents when the next typhoon/tsunami comes to town. Pressure will no doubt be directed towards the government on the anniversary of Yolanda, as agencies signal that still not enough money has been downloaded from the central coffers in Manila to areas of need in the Visayas.
It’s no good pretending that another emergency won’t come. This is a country prone to typhoons, flooding, volcano eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the occasional drought. I can’t think of a single natural disaster that isn’t likely to happen in the Philippines, and as climate change continues to move the goalposts, storms are getting stronger and more violent, sea levels are rising, and countries like this are struggling to fight back against the elements, no matter how much DRR and training is provided.
In my neck of the woods we have now moved well out of the emergency and early recovery phases, and are in a transitional period, ready to shift into the development phase. It’s a complex and confusing time for everyone concerned, as we start to shift downwards to reduce the size and scale of our programmes – reducing our target beneficiary numbers, reducing the areas that we work in, reducing budgets, and numbers of staff as our programme shrinks down. It makes sense, as in an emergency you need to reach large numbers of people quickly, while in development, in order to achieve lasting change, you need to target smaller, specific groups of people for longer-term, more in-depth programming.
However defining development has always been a challenge, and the variety of buzzwords and catchphrases weighing it down has only served to hinder a better understanding of it. I have sat through endless meetings where people discuss theories of change, and transformative change models, and any number of other phrases that remain utterly meaningless to me. At my humble end of the scale, I’m left thinking if I want to achieve a transformative change agenda for my beneficiary community, what do I actually need to do?
And I haven’t met anyone yet who can explain it to me in plain English.