Getting out of the mud: How the ILO helps typhoon victims in the Philippines

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In 2006, the Bicol region of the Philippines was hit by two typhoons affecting more than 200,000 families. A recent ILO mission to the country revealed that 30 per cent of the workers concerned were unemployed and many more in precarious jobs. Last February, the ILO opened a livelihood center in the region which is part of a capacity building programme for the victims. ILO staff member Minette Rimando reports from Manila.

MANILA (ILO Online) - Durian - named after a spiky Asian fruit - was the fourth typhoon to hit the Philippines in only three months, and the world's second deadliest disaster in 2006 after the earthquake on the Indonesian island of Java.

More than a year has passed since the tropical storm killed 1,399 people, yet the trauma is still alive. Thousands continue to live in temporary shelters, and the devastating effects on employment and livelihood persist.

After the storm, Marites and her husband had to dig in the mud for 16 days just to find his driver's license so he could return to work as a jeep driver.

'We didn't know where to go. My store was destroyed. I used to earn P 1,000 (US$ 25) and my husband another P 300 (US$ 7.50) a day. After the typhoon we had no income', remembers Marites. Her family was evacuated to a school where they lived for a few months. Then they stayed in a tent before they were relocated to a temporary shelter.

Durian was the worst typhoon to hit the Bicol region. Among the six provinces in the region, Albay suffered the most with 604 people killed and 229,572 families affected by the typhoon.

'For 47 years, this is the first time I have experienced such a strong typhoon. We are desperate. Our house was destroyed, four columns are all what's left of it', says Ruth, a 48-year-old typhoon survivor and mother of four children.

Rosemarie, a mother of five children, rejoins her: 'I am a dressmaker and my husband is a tricycle driver. After the strong typhoon, my husband is not earning enough, life has been very difficult. We have a very low income.'

Initial findings of the ILO covering households in temporary shelters revealed that after a one year's stay in these sites, 30 per cent did not look for work simply because they believe that there is no work available. About 69 per cent were employed, but most of them only held precarious jobs pushing the survivors into poverty.

Last February, the ILO opened its livelihood center in Daraga, Albay.

'The establishment of this livelihood center is a starting point. I am convinced that this community is full of talents, skills and enthusiasm and will be able to overcome the terrible experience of the typhoon', explains Linda Wirth, Director of the ILO Subregional Office in Manila.

According to Wirth, the situation in Albay is a test case for the ILO promoting decent work in crisis and reconstruction situations. 'We think that the creation of employment and livelihoods is the only way to lift people out of poverty', says Wirth.

The livelihood center was built in partnership with the local government, the Bicol Center for Community Development, the National Housing Authority, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Labor and Employment.

According to Rafael Triunfante Jr., President of the Bicol Center for Community Development, many of the earlier relief projects in the region were 'not sustainable but this time it is different: we moved from smaller groups to bigger ones in which the women organized themselves. Thus the funds will be maximized to promote economic development'.

Entrepreneurship training was conducted while market linkages, equipment and start-up capital were provided to typhoon survivors.

Bukluran - 'unity' is key to relief efforts

'We learned the importance of uniting and organizing ourselves. Bukluran, the name of our organization, means unity', explains Ruth who now heads the organization as its President. Marites, now a member of Bukluran's Board of Directors hopes to expand the livelihood centre to reach out to other typhoon survivors.

Unity is also key to national and international relief efforts. The ILO co-chairs a cluster on livelihood recovery together with the DSWD of the Philippines The country mainstreamed the cluster approach in its Disaster Management System spearheaded by the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

What's more, the ILO joined 18 UN agencies in an early recovery cluster in 2005 which calls for more effective, predictable and timely action in post-crisis situations, and has established a specific collaboration for joint emergency response.

Through this partnership, the UN agencies can together be more effective in improving the situation of the most vulnerable in post-disaster and post-conflict situations by jointly evaluating needs, sharing and adapting livelihood promotion schemes, and designing and implementing common strategies and projects for the promotion of livelihoods in both rural and urban areas.

'The primary goal is to reinforce and improve existing links and synergies between agricultural activities and income generating opportunities, thereby helping to reduce beneficiaries' dependency on food aid as soon as possible', concludes Wirth.