OPINION: Emergency humanitarian response should be an integral part of dev planning

Fr. Edwin Gariguez

Posted at Oct 31 2018 11:45 PM

The effects of climate change are undoubtedly upon us—the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change recently released a major report warning that the world would experience crisis-level consequences of global warming as early as 2040. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that if global temperatures are left unabated, the global population would experience severe food shortages, coral reefs dying at massive proportions, and mass migration of people from the tropics.

At present, many communities are not capable of addressing emergencies and disasters and do not have the capacity to shoulder response and recovery efforts. As such, when a disaster or calamity strikes these communities, it takes them a long time to recover, making them even more vulnerable to the next disaster or conflict. 

What if disaster response and recovery (DRR) efforts started way before disasters struck? What if such efforts were planned with foresight and best practices in mind? 

Making local response mainstream
We have yet to see a blueprint on disaster response, rehabilitation, and recovery—an organized and sustainable response mechanism, one that includes provisions for funding national and local humanitarian organizations in immediate contact with the communities. This is an imperative that cannot be ignored any longer.

My experience in NASSA/Caritas Philippines and the experiences of our colleagues in the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO) and the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC) inspired us to set up a consortium, Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response (SAFER), to create a joint fundraising mechanism to address financial gaps in emergencies in disasters. 

Our mission is to prepare and enable communities to recover from disasters quickly. Having resources on hand allow us to quickly respond to communities, especially for disasters on a smaller scale. For communities in underserved areas and those experiencing smaller disasters, it’s about providing them with relief and with the ability to bounce back quickly. 

We take into account actors on the ground who have experience addressing natural disasters and clinic. Their expertise and their ability to manage resources reduce the ills that come with ad hoc and disorganized disaster response: slow response leading to exacerbated damage; corruption, misuse, or underutilization of disaster funds; and mismatch between the needs of the affected communities and the goods and services provided the community. 

How does it work? When an emergency occurs, our member organizations do a quick assessment and submit a proposal. Once the proposal is approved, we launch an appeal plan to raise funds and secure the target amount needed for food and non-food relief. The funds are then given to our member organizations for implementation. We also set up a Quick Response Fund, which will come from our members’ investments and fees and through the funds raised in ongoing public appeals. 

We track how contributions are spent and ensure that the affected communities receive timely, appropriate, and adequate assistance in the following areas: water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), food and non-food relief, livelihood, emergency shelter, camp management, psycho-social intervention, and information management and coordination. 

Preparedness key to DRR programs

Preparedness is the fulcrum of any disaster risk reduction program. In our experience, communities that are empowered and enabled to identify risks, vulnerabilities, and hazards on their own stand a better chance of surviving and recovering from disasters. 

This capability works best when complemented by efforts from government and civil society to pre-position relief items (such as food and non-food, health and hygiene, and household items), provide evacuation and other forms of emergency shelter, transportation and communication, and even provide cash to pay for immediate on-ground needs. 

More importantly, an organized DRR effort, integrated into development planning and sustained over time regardless of whoever is in power, render a dole-out mentality and political patronage irrelevant.

Helping communities put preparedness first
How have we done this in local communities? In Leyte, NASSA/Caritas Philippines and the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit of the Archdiocese of Palo, Leyte implemented a recovery and rehabilitation program in the aftermath of the super typhoon Yolanda. We introduced the Community Convergence Initiative, which provided a venue for the communities to engage their local government, from the barangay to the provincial level, sharing with them the challenges they faced, the support given by the archdiocese-led program, and their own ideas and suggestions to improve local laws, policies, and services to become more responsive to the communities’ needs.

Together with nine affected dioceses, we undertook a comprehensive pre- and post-disaster information-gathering through a Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment (PDRA). This then became the basis of the DIGITALPH Project, the digitization of disaster and community information that may be accessed by the community, government, civil society, academe, aid agencies, for a more effective and efficient disaster response and development programming. DIGITALPH was named one of 2017’s three best innovations in the world by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund. 

In 2016, in the aftermath of typhoon Lawin, NASSA/Caritas Philippines, in partnership with World Vision, Peace and Conflict Journalism Network-Philippines, and the International Office on Migration, implemented a Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Program. Through this program, NASSA/Caritas established Community Disaster Task Groups in 10 communities in Isabela province in cooperation with the local church’s Diocesan Social Action Center. 

These task groups have since trained local government units on emergency preparedness and response, and have assisted the diocese in responding to the challenges arising from typhoons Josie and Ompong in July and September, respectively. The project was cited as one of the best community-based DRR projects in Asia by the Asian Center for Disaster Preparedness in 2018.

We not only help communities prepare for crises, but we also make sure that they have resources immediately in the aftermath of a disaster. Last October, SAFER helped 40 families in Cabiraoan, Cagayan suffering from the impact of Typhoon Ompong, by distributing a financial aid of Php2,500, providing immediate cash assistance to those most in need, allowing them to buy key supplies to start their recovery.

This quick, targeted, efficient response is what is needed by communities today. Every day, a family misses out on resources post-disaster makes them more vulnerable and makes recovery and rehabilitation more difficult. 

Our network’s experience has shown that when we invest in preparedness and when resources are mobilized locally, communities recover faster and better. 

These efforts are but a few examples of what preparedness and mobilization of resources and humanitarian assistance at the local level can achieve towards the recovery and sustainability of communities after disasters strike. We have seen how we can jumpstart community development from a platform of rational and organized emergency response. We hope that becomes more widespread as we face greater challenges ahead. 


Fr. Edwin “Edu” A. Gariguez is the Chairperson of SAFER—Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response—a non-profit dedicated to launching public appeals following a disaster, mobilizing its member networks, corporate partners, and media to support the call. Funds raised by the appeals go towards the mobilization of SAFER’s member networks (Humanitarian Resource Consortium, CODE-NGO, NASSA/Caritas Philippines), which in turn provide localized humanitarian assistance to the affected communities, ensuring the public that their donations are used to deliver appropriate, effective, and efficient disaster relief to those who need it most.

Fr. Edu is also the Executive Secretary of NASSA/Caritas Philipines, where he played a critical role in implementing the 3-year Haiyan recovery and rehabilitation response called #REACHPhilippines (Recovery Assistance to Vulnerable Communities Affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines), to date the local Church's widest and largest-funded humanitarian response. He has also paved the way for the institutionalization of the National Caritas Roadmap for Sustainability and Resilience, which aims to spread national and local resource mobilization, and emergency and disaster preparedness capacity, to all 85 diocesan social action centers in the country.


Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.