6 months after Haiyan: Banking on recovery

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Six months after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines, recovery efforts continue in many of the hardest hit areas. Mercy Corps has helped over 140,000 people like Gertrud Quinza (above) survive the chaos of the disaster and begin putting their lives back together.

The bamboo "payang," or hut, that Gertrud, 23, shared with her husband Edsel and their two young children was reduced to rubble in the devastating storm — there is nothing but a single bamboo pole and part of a tin roof left. With Mercy Corps' assistance, she's been able to buy food and help repair her mother-in-law's house where the family is staying.

They are just a few of the 4.1 million people still internally displaced after their homes were destroyed by Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda).

The strongest recorded storm ever to make landfall slammed into the Visayas region of the Philippines on November 8 last year. With winds as high as 195 MPH, coconut trees were snapped in half like matchsticks and houses that had survived storms for decades were blown apart.

The storm surge — a tsunami-like wall of water nearly two stories high — together with high winds, lifted entire ocean liners onto land in Leyte in the Eastern Visayas. In all, more than 16 million people were affected by Haiyan and need long-term help to recover. Read more facts about Typhoon Haiyan ▸

Within days, our emergency response team was delivering water and food packages and essentials like blankets, hygiene kits and cooking utensils to families on remote islands who had yet to receive any assistance. See more photos of emergency distributions ▸

In partnership with GOAL, we also distributed tools and materials for people to repair their homes and provided cash assistance to buy additional necessities.

Based on our experience in past disasters, we know how important it is to address the unique needs of children after such a terrifying experience. Mercy Corps partnered with ChildFund International to establish safe spaces where the youngest survivors could receive psychosocial support and recover from the trauma of the storm. See more photos of our work with children ▸

We've also identified ways to help communities build back better. On remote islands like Kinatarcan, north of Cebu, we're working on ways to improve water access and sanitation for families who have traditionally relied only on wells and rainwater catchments.

Six months after the storm, there has been important progress. But recovery after a disaster of this scale is a long process. With markets still functioning, we believe the fastest and most efficient way to help people continue rebuilding is through cash transfers.

But how do you get money to people in a country where roughly 80% of the population doesn’t have access to a bank account — and of those, nearly half (around 40 million people) live on less than $2 a day?

Mercy Corps saw an opportunity to make an even bigger impact by providing the cash transfers with mobile savings accounts with BPI Globe BanKO, the Philippines’ first mobile phone-based bank in the Philippines. For many beneficiaries, this was the first time they’d been able to save money securely. See photos and meet one of the first families to benefit from our emergency mobile money program ▸

Mercy Corps and BanKO employees use tablets to register beneficiaries, who then receive both a mobile SIM card and an ATM card. In this way, they can access their funds at BanKO partner outlets in their community as well as through ATMs elsewhere in the Philippine islands.

Over 22,000 households have so far been registered and nearly 8,000 families have received their first of three 2,000 peso ($45 USD) cash disbursements.

Vangie Inocando, 53 and the mother of five (above), is one of them. She recalls holding onto a banana tree to keep from being blown away as the typhoon blew her house apart. “The rain pelted so hard it was painful on my checks. I heard ringing from the howling of the wind.” Her first priority is to use the funds from Mercy Corps to rebuild her family’s home.

Families who now have mobile savings accounts can decide how they want to spend the funds they’ve received from Mercy Corps. Most are using money to rebuild their homes. Many are contributing part to their children’s schooling and saving for unexpected expenses in the future. Some have invested in restarting their small business.

Seventy-four-year-old Pedro del Pilar (above) used his first cash transfer to pay a carpenter to rebuild his roof that was torn when the storm swept through Arado village on Leyte island.

Amor Delacruz, 39 (above), is a health worker in Dakit village, in northern Cebu, where her house stood for 20 years and weathered at least five major storms before Typhoon Haiyan. Now all that remains is the frame.

Since she was able to move into her parents’ home temporarily, Amor decided to use the first cash transfer to pay the college fees for her two older children. She intends to save the rest to rebuild the house for her and her two younger children, 14 and 10 years old.

Florida Go (above) and her husband Realino live in a village south of hardest-hit Tacloban City. They invested their first disbursement into a kilo of sugar to restart their candy-making business, which they run out of their home with the help of their children and grandchildren.

The Go’s made some initial repairs on their severely-damaged house, but their business was stalled because few people had money for non-essentials like candy. Business has started to pick up again, and Mr. Go is looking forward to being able to save money on the mobile savings account and eventually pay his bills remotely — right now it takes him several hours round-trip each month to pay water and electric bills in town.

What's next? We know recovery from a major disaster like Typhoon Haiyan takes time, and Mercy Corps is committed to providing the necessary resources and smart support that families need to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

We also see an opportunity to help people become stronger than they were before the storm. That's why we're now partnering with, the non-profit arm of the Silicon Valley design and innovation firm, to design new financial technologies and services that will help the hardest-hit families become more financially secure for years to come. Watch this video to learn more about our new collaboration ▸