It is almost three years since Super Typhoon “Yolanda” devastated the central Philippines and shook the nation to its core. On Nov. 8, 2013, what was said to be the strongest typhoon in recorded history made landfall several times across the country, from Eastern Samar to Palawan, and left on its trail untold loss and devastation.
The rest of the world turned its attention to us. We never doubted we had allies in coping with the disaster. For that, we will always be grateful—and much as we aim to better help ourselves in the future, we do not share the President’s pronouncement that we do not need any aid from others. We do, we do.
But more than the humbling realization that we cannot exist alone, Yolanda reminded us that there were many gaps that needed to be filled despite the existence of a law, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010. A law merely lays down what it is we think we need to do. Implementing what the law prescribes is another thing—and it was here we failed miserably.
There was a gap between what science told forecasters and what was communicated to the people. There was a failure to grasp that rushing to help the surivivors was not a matter of who got there first, and the most loudly. There was ignorance of the needs of those in the periphery, and of the challenges in bringing them help amid the bureacratic and logistical bottlenecks.
There was the all-too-human issue of turf protection, and misplaced pride, and the apparently basic desire to bring down others in the attempt to boost one’s stock. We also saw how those who are expected to know better simply gave in to petty politics while glossing over the more fundamental, more human demands of the situation.
Finally, we discovered that we can be lazy enough to address lose ends when doing so would not serve our own purposes anymore. Case in point: The finding that despite the time that had passed, not all the rightful recipients of shelter assistance have received the help that has been promised them.
It is difficult to consistently work on building resilience among individuals and communities because disasters, especially eye-opening ones like “Yolanda” was, come only occasionally. In between, there are equally important and seemingly more urgent issues: poverty, the economy, crime, drugs, violence. Despite this, however, the Duterte administration must not lose sight of this objective: to strengthen the capacity of communities to anticipate disasters, prevent loss and damage, address their immediate effects and then, in the long term, build back better and emerge stronger than they ever were to begin with.
These efforts may not be front and center now, but when the next big disaster comes, all the hard work of the past few years can be wiped out, and we will have been set back again when it is already so difficult to trudge along.