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Commentary

Emerging problem in monitoring ‘Yolanda’ aid

01:43 AM November 16, 2016

In an unprecedented manner, “Yolanda” laid waste to a large part of the Philippines three years ago. Our country’s systems and resources proved insufficient to respond to the needs of its citizens affected by the supertyphoon, but the international community came to the rescue.

Yet the fact remains that both the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Commission on Audit have reported irregularities in the use of Yolanda funds. Previously, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo announced that around 200,000 Yolanda survivors have yet to receive emergency shelter assistance. The discussion is slowly becoming a blame game between local implementers and the national government.

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We keep trivializing the impoverished state of our fellow Filipinos without addressing one of the root causes of their plight—the lack of a solid and country-led accountability system. This has resulted in massive inconsistencies with our data references, the waiving of our right to seek more transparency with contributors, and the failure to complement the national budget with other sources of financing.

The problem is not the absence of data; it is the lack of sound systems that would allow us to consolidate and assess the multiple data sets that we have. If we compare reports from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-Ocha), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC), and the government’s own Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH), the discrepancies in the figures and reporting entities can create an unnecessary contest of data and potential misinterpretation.

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Look no further than their totals of Yolanda aid pledges: According to UN-Ocha, OECD-DAC, and FAiTH, they add up to $865,151,866, $845,686,949, and $1,643,038,278, respectively.

Reporting entities from foreign countries and multilateral entities also differ across the three data sources due to the design of each reporting system. FAiTH differentiates between cash and noncash contributions, while UN-Ocha and OECD-DAC do not. FaiTH also tallies pledges almost double that of UN-Ocha and OECD-DAC. Country reports also differ across these data sets, with differences as high as over 1,000 percent.

So which is the most accurate source of Yolanda aid data, and how extensively do these reports reflect actual implementation and impact?

No one really knows, and it is futile to assert that one source is better than the other. But here are some steps we should consider seriously if we want to make every contribution—previous and future—count:

First, the Philippines needs to set up a country-led monitoring and reporting platform that consolidates and evaluates all these data sets to ensure consistency and uniformity of reference. The Climate Change Commission must uphold its mandate as the climate finance information hub of the country.

Second, whichever agency would be tasked in maintaining the data must be empowered to ensure interagency cooperation. Using a single reference point would allow better planning and more responsive budgeting of national and international sources.

Third, the legislative branch must do its part in upholding accountability. Oversight bodies in the House of Representatives and the Senate must have a clear and strong voice in establishing the shared responsibility between contributors and recipient governments. Assuming that responsibility on the receiving end will allow the Philippines to validate reports and leverage better terms in the future.

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Climate projections imply that Yolanda and even the recent “Lawin” will not be the last of their kind to wreak havoc on the Philippines. Preparing for the next extreme weather event should therefore involve not only better planning for adaptation and resilience but also institutional strengthening of the government’s resource management and accountability practices.

 

Angelo Kairos T. dela Cruz is the associate for climate policy of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.

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TAGS: Aid, assistance, Commentary, opinion, Supertyphoon, Yolanda
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