Philippines: A Lesson that Helped Save Lives

April 15, 2014

  • Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) caused destruction to lives and properties across central Philippines on November 8, 2013.
  • The government’s conditional cash transfer program supported by the World Bank helped provide relief to affected families.
  • Under the program, beneficiaries also received training on disaster-preparedness that helped save lives.

Cebu, PHILIPPINES, April 15, 2014 - Brightly-colored gumamelas (hibiscus) in peach, yellow and red dot the sides of the paved road leading to the village of Tapilon in the town of Daanbantayan, Cebu Province. The flowers almost mask the devastation left by typhoon Yolanda (International name Haiyan) in this bucolic coastal village on the morning of November 8, 2013.

Venturing into the village itself reveals the path of destruction left by what most consider the strongest storm to make landfall in history. All across the village stand damaged government and school buildings, and tents housing families. You see makeshift repairs on homes made of light materials such as nipa (palm leaves) and bamboo.

A nearby barangay (village) hall which survived Yolanda’s wrath is abuzz with poor mothers with young children in tow. They just finished attending a family development session with a social worker as beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program.

Heidi, a young housewife, is glad she joined one of those sessions in early November 2013. Just a couple of weeks before the typhoon, Cebu and its neighboring provinces experienced a massive earthquake, 7.2 on the Richter scale. “One of the lessons I learned was to keep calm during a disaster,” Heidi said about the session on family disaster preparedness.

“When Yolanda happened, everyone was in panic but I tried not to be affected even though the roof of our house was blown away, and I saw houses around us being knocked down,” she added. Living a safe distance from shore, Heidi decided it was better to stay put in their house than venture into the storm.

The frail mother of three tearfully recalled how her children cried in fear as they sought cover under a table as strong winds and rain battered their hut for almost three hours. “I told myself that I would show them that I was not afraid even though, deep inside, I was truly scared.”

Heidi reassured herself with the thought that she was sufficiently prepared for the calamity.  She took to heart the lessons in preparing a disaster kit with drinking water and ready-to-eat food like bread and bananas which helped tide them over the first few days after the typhoon.

She also remembered to pack a flashlight, lamp and clothes for her children. Days later, help started to arrive from relatives, private donors and from the local government.

" When Yolanda happened, everyone was in panic but I tried not to be affected even though the roof of our house was blown away, and I saw houses around us being knocked down. "


Young housewife, Cebu Province

Heidi used the cash grant she received from the program to buy sturdy canvas to cover parts of their damaged hut. Leftover canvas was used as a sleeping mat for her children. Because they lost almost everything they owned, she used a portion of the grant, amounting to an average of $62 dollars a month, to buy her children new pairs of slippers.

Heidi is among 3.2 million beneficiary families of the government’s conditional cash transfer program popularly called 4Ps or Pantawid, which means to “stave off hunger or poverty”; in the local language. Under the program, implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), beneficiaries receive monthly cash grants for sending their kids to school and undergoing regular health checks.

Daanbantayan is just one of the many towns in the Visayas region which is still recovering from the disaster almost five months after Yolanda pummeled 36 provinces in the country. Damage to agriculture in the region is estimated at P31.13  billion (almost $7 million) according to the Agriculture Department,  with around 4.1 million people displaced by the typhoon. An estimated 8,000 people died or are still missing.

Heidi is grateful she and her family survived the category 5 typhoon that ripped through their house and the rest of the village. Having never experienced a typhoon as strong as Yolanda, preparing for disasters never crossed Heidi’s or her neighbors’ minds. Until she attended the session. “Now I realize how important it is to plan in the event of a calamity,” she stressed.