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Saturday, October 23, 2021

‘We worked hand in hand’

EMERGENCY JOBS PART OF RECOVERY SOLUTIONS.  Workers, photographed late last October 2014, spruce up the Madridejos Municipal Hall. Local governments with damaged or destroyed public buildings have received help from the Department of Interior and Local Government to fix these. The Department of Social Welfare and Development also provided cash in exchange for typhoon survivor’s labor; in Medellin, the agency spent P5 million on constituents who were asked to clear the roads of typhoon debris for 15 days.  (SUN.STAR PHOTO/RUEL ROSELLO)

YOLANDA survivors looked to the government for help—for food, temporary shelter, clothing. But in times and places where there was none, volunteer groups and the private sector did much of the work.

Among the first to bring help to northern Cebu shortly after Yolanda made landfall on Nov. 8 was the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI).

With its available resources and efficiency, the chamber outperformed government agencies in many disaster response tasks since Day 1 of the relief operations.

“CCCI was already in the loop with the local government as soon as we learned about the impending super typhoon. Although we didn’t know yet where exactly the typhoon would be heading, we had already mobilized our resources,” said May Elizabeth Segura-Ybañez, the executive director of CCCI.

Ybañez recalled that they were at the height of distributing relief goods to survivors of the earthquake in Bohol when they had to re-stock their non-perishable items, this time to prepare for the typhoon.

“While the storm was raging, we were packing goods. We had to do that so we can do relief operations instantly,” said Lito Maderazo, the CCCI president that time.

The chamber has gotten so used to responding to major calamities that it created its own disaster preparedness and response committee in 2012.

Ready

Before the fund-raising activities and relief operations for those affected by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol, CCCI was doing relief operations amid the unrest in Zamboanga.

“We are used to responding to calamities without being asked to. However, it was during typhoon Yolanda when we felt that our presence and help were really badly needed,” said Ybañez.

Around 20 of the chamber’s staff worked full-time at the height of the disaster response.

Yolanda, described as the most powerful storm to make landfall in recorded history, toppled infrastructure like communications lines, making it harder for volunteer organizations like CCCI to respond immediately.

Since the local government units in northern Cebu were victims themselves, the chamber initially relied on the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.’s (RAFI) population information and tapped their members who had vehicles to start distributing relief goods to the affected towns. 

Ybañez said they used a simple flowchart for the distribution of relief goods, making sure all affected areas were covered. 

However, when international relief items started coming in, sometime a week or two after the typhoon, the chamber changed its mechanism.

Logistics

When the Mactan-Cebu International Airport was designated as the hub for international relief flights, CCCI officers realized they needed to take the lead in the mobilization efforts.

“There was a major issue on the logistics side. The airport could not absorb all the international goods coming, and there was only one forklift available to unload all the goods,” recalled Maderazo, president of Mactan Rock Industries Inc.

He added that if they waited for the government to act, the layered bureaucracy would result in slow and delayed decision-making and actions.

“There was no clear protocol at the government’s end. So we stepped up, especially that some international relief flights expressed they would go back to their origin if their goods will not be unloaded,” Ybañez said.

CCCI needed to rent additional forklifts to speed up the unloading of relief items.

CCCI had raised P1.3 million through the Bangon Cebu concert, a benefit concert for the survivors of typhoon Yolanda in northern Cebu, from various local and international persons and institutions. Of the total funds raised, the chamber used P198,000 for forklift rentals to handle international goods.

Regan King, who heads the chamber’s disaster preparedness and response committee, convinced the head of the old Sacred Heart School on Gen. Maxilom Ave. to use the school’s gym as warehouse for relief goods from Indonesia, Myanmar and Russia.

Hand in hand

“Government’s presence was there. We worked hand in hand with them; however, during that time their resources were limited. They didn’t have cash to give right away and asking for financial resources would mean going through some bureaucratic procedures,” said Maderazo.

From chamber members to volunteers, Ybañez said everybody extended a hand in the inventory and repacking of relief items.

The chamber also mobilized its other divisions to take care of the evacuees who sought shelter in Cebu, as well as for information gathering and management, and relief distribution.

“The relief effort was one example of how the public and private sectors can work together,” she said.

Yolanda left a trail of devastation in Eastern Visayas and northern Cebu. At least 6,300 died and more than 1,000 are still missing. It destroyed more than $2 billion worth of properties and infrastructure.

Looking back, Ybañez said that Yolanda served as a wake-up call in terms of the province’s preparedness and capability to respond to disasters.

“The level of preparedness was there but on the government side, it was low,” she said.

Command center

Maderazo said the government has to streamline its procedures when dealing with disaster relief and recovery operations. 

“It is essential that for any disaster, there has to be one command center, where all agencies and sector would report to. More importantly, the National Government has to let the local government unit take charge,” said Maderazo, adding that this will make the response more swift and effective.

A year after Yolanda, the private sector and NGOs continue to plug the holes left open because of bureaucracy.

From relief operations, CCCI is now addressing livelihood concerns in the north.

At the start of this year, the chamber was tasked by the Province of Cebu to handle the livelihood component of the rehabilitation phase.

A Green Economic Rehabilitation and Livelihood Programs framework was created for the affected communities in northern Cebu, which was adopted by the Livelihood and Commerce Cluster of the Cebu Task Force Paglig-on.

Better terms

The objective of the program is to facilitate livelihood programs and projects that will enable typhoon survivors to shift from marginalized subsistence to more sustainable economic living conditions. It also aims to help entrepreneurs revive their business enterprises while encouraging them to incorporate more sustainable and resilient infrastructure, inputs and practices.

The framework covers the value chain analysis in farming, fishing, poultry and livestock, and cottage industry, retail and trade and tourism industries.

It will also include livelihood and enterprise re-development, technical assistance, infrastructure support, supply input, processing and product development, human resource development, marketing and financing support.

“The aftermath of the typhoon opened opportunities in terms of building better industries. The rehabilitation phase is an opportune time for government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Tourism to take a second look at the industries to provide better livelihood to the communities,” said Maderazo.
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