In the Philippines, challenges even before Haiyan

By Oxfam

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The devastating typhoon is only the latest in a string of disasters that have hit the country’s poorest people hardest.

Right now, Oxfam is responding to Typhoon Haiyan, the massive storm that killed thousands and affected more than 11 million people in the Philippines. Besides the devastating loss of life, Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, is projected to cost the country billions of pesos in damage to homes, livelihoods, and infrastructure.

A storm of this magnitude would pose a hardship for any nation. But Haiyan is only the latest in a series of crises affecting the Philippines in recent years—crises that, as is often the case, have hit the country’s poorest citizens hardest.

2013: A year of disasters

Haiyan comes on the heels of several other catastrophic events for the Philippines: a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol province last month, which displaced over 300,000 people; a storm that wiped out rice harvests worth millions of pesos; and a deadly standoff between the military and rebel forces that left hundreds dead and thousands homeless in September.

Even before this year, things weren’t made any easier by the country’s position in the seismic “ring of fire,” which leaves it vulnerable to earthquakes and landslides. Or by the ongoing civil conflicts in the Mindanao region, which have forced approximately 2 million people to leave their homes since the 1960s. It’s a situation that makes breaking free from poverty and building a secure future even tougher, especially when high levels of government debt continue to hamper economic growth.

“These disasters make the already difficult lives of poor people even harder and trap them in a life with little hope of getting better,” said Marie Madamba-Nuñez, spokesperson for Oxfam in the Philippines.

Poor families hardest hit

Like most disasters, Typhoon Haiyan hit the poorest and most vulnerable people the hardest. The affected provinces are poorer than the national average, with about four out of ten families living below the poverty line before the disaster hit. The average household income in Eastern Visayas (which includes the hard-hit areas of Samar and Leyte) is about $3400 a year. Many families here live on small-scale agriculture and fishing, or earn income from low-paid jobs and micro-enterprises in the towns and cities.

“With no properties, little savings, and no steady incomes, the Philippines’ poorest people are small farmers and fishers whose livelihoods cannot withstand a disaster,” said Madamba- Nuñez.

Women, in particular, face hardships throughout the Philippines, with lower employment rates than men and limited opportunities to participate in political and economic decision-making.

A history of working for solutions

Since 1987, Oxfam has been working with local partner organizations in the Philippines to address some of these challenges. Our work has focused on building women’s capacity as economic leaders, advocating for change at the government level, and dealing with disasters.

Besides life-saving emergency aid—like clean water, food, shelter, and sanitation—we have funded long-term poverty-reducing projects that enable people to rebuild their lives, livelihoods, and communities. We also partner with local and national governments and other organizations to find long-term solutions. In 2009, we piloted the establishment of a Disaster Risk Management Office, a permanent office in a local government unit that dramatically reduced the loss of life and property damage brought on by disasters in the provinces of Saranggani, Sorsogon, and Pampanga.

Right now, in the aftermath of Haiyan, Oxfam aims to reach more than 500,000 people with emergency assistance. And when the immediate crisis ends, we’ll still be there, helping people overcome challenges and create lasting solutions.