Editorial: Another look at Yolanda’s numbers

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

NOT all the numbers in Yolanda’s wake are grim.

Despite the super typhoon and the earthquake that preceded it by only three weeks, the government is optimistic the Philippine economy will reach “the upper limits” of its growth target for 2013, set at six to seven percent.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said yesterday he remains confident the country will extend its streak of five consecutive quarters where the economy expanded by seven percent or better. He has good reason to be optimistic.

For while calamities wreak havoc, in most cases, the massive resources spent in rebuilding schools, homes and shattered communities can prop up the economy as well.

Yes, there are immediate pains, including the loss of tax revenues from businesses that have collapsed and the possible disruptions in basic government services that this can cause. Another potential problem could be the transfer of businesses to less hazard-prone cities or towns.

For the most part, however, societies that recover after a calamity tend to enjoy an economic windfall. Rebuilding creates new jobs, for starters. When regional development councils do their jobs well—that is, when they efficiently coordinate the many sources of relief and rehabilitation funds—they can cause meaningful changes, as in relocating vulnerable communities to safer ground.

The challenge for government is to measure recovery not just by the economy’s numbers, no matter how impressive these seem. The challenge, after Yolanda, is not only to rebuild the P18 billion in fallen infrastructure or recover the P17 billion worth of crops and agricultural implements lost.

The bigger challenge will be to make all stakeholders less vulnerable, whatever their station in life. Simply restoring economic and social conditions to “pre-typhoon levels” will not do, because these are the same conditions that made thousands so vulnerable in the first place.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 18, 2013.


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