UNESCO helps build resilience post- Haiyan
A journalist surveys what was once his workspace and is now a shell housing ruined equipment covered in mud. School-aged children crowd the rear and top of a covered pickup truck as it pulls away from larger trucks clearing land, while a semi-destroyed high school is used as an evacuation camp. A makeshift tent comprised of a tarp, scrap corrugated iron and bamboo becomes shelter where buildings have been toppled.
These were among the scenes captured by UNESCO staff in the aftermath of what many are calling the worst storm in recorded history, Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda).
Andrea Cairola, an adviser in Communication and Information at the Beijing Cluster Office, captured some of those images as part of 12 missions sent by UNESCO to assess needs in the most devastated parts of the Visayas region, including Tacloban (Leyte) and Guiuan (Eastern Samar).
Mr Cairola said the level of devastation he witnessed was on a level that was noteworthy even among humanitarian relief personnel who had visited the scenes of other recent wide-scale disasters around the world in recent years. Indeed, the destruction left by Haiyan was catastrophic in scale, with more than 1.2 million homes destroyed and four million people displaced.
"But equally the resilience and capacity to react of affected people appears exceptional," Mr Cairola noted.
Less than a week after the storm hit, UNESCO established its presence in the disaster-hit country, first with a two member team of experts in water and environmental management, warning systems, resilient infrastructure and disaster risk reduction from the regional science bureau for Asia and the Pacific based in Jakarta. This would later grow to a 12 member team representing the full breadth of the organization's core competencies.
Experts in education, culture, media development, hydrology, early warning systems, resilient infrastructure and disaster and risk reduction from Paris, Jakarta, Beijing and Bangkok joined forces, with a temporary desk set up in Manila to assist in coordination with relevant authorities and the National Commission of the Philippines.
Support for the effort was not limited to the region – UNESCO offices the world over, including headquarters in Paris as well as in liaison offices to the UN and OCHA headquarters in Geneva and New York, and offices with specific expertise in post-crises such as Juba, Yangon and Beirut, as well as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) offered key inputs.
After gauging needs on the ground in close coordination with the government of the Philippines and the UN system, priority areas were identified where urgent action is required. Three of these projects which, after a careful peer review process by other UN and international organizations, were included in the funding appeal for the UN OCHA Strategic Response Plan, launched on 10 December.
The first, developed in conjunction with NAMRIA, the Philippines agency in charge of sea level observation, focused on rebuilding and replacing early warning systems damaged by the storm in coastal areas.
Education is the central focus of the second project, with goals growing out of meetings between international and local agencies and senior Education Ministry officials shortly after the disaster that were facilitated by UNESCO Bangkok. Psychosocial and Education in Emergencies support for the secondary school system factored heavily into this proposal.
The third proposal was developed in the area of communication and information, which is focused on assisting the rehabilitation of the once vibrant local and community media sector in storm-hit areas.
Local media representatives told UNESCO that for most members of the Eastern Visayas chapter of the Association of Broadcasters, the storm was devastating, destroying equipment and putting them all out of work.
The Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities Network in the Philippines summed up the situation as reported by media development organizations in the field. "Affected people are reporting information needs not being met on critical life-saving information about available aid, missing relatives, protection and health issues and evacuation and recovery planning."
For Mr Cairola, however, the situation demonstrated local professionals' resilience and their desire to move forward.
"I was impressed by the motivation and commitment of local media practitioners to go back to work, as well as by the capacity of the national civil society organizations dealing with media development and press freedom," he said. "They want to help fellow media colleagues in the affected areas, and they see in UNESCO a partner for that."
The project would assist in rebuilding damaged media infrastructure and also training journalists in areas such as disaster and humanitarian reporting.
Going beyond these priority concerns, UNESCO is also engaged in government-led consultations for the transitional recovery and reconstruction programme, particularly in managing water pollution, building back resilient infrastructure, disaster risk reduction and cultural heritage.
ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) took part in a National Commission for Culture and the Arts-UNESCO joint expert mission from 2-12 December to Manila and the central Visayas. The mission aimed to assist the Philippines in assessing the impact of both the Bohol earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan on the country’s historical, cultural heritage buildings, museums and collections as well as intangible heritage.
In addition to assessing damage, the mission identified medium to long-term recovery actions.
Churches, which are the center of many communities, were a major area of focus, with importance given to involving locals in the restoration process.
UNESCO staff operating through the Manila desk office remain committed to engaging in the Philippines on the ground both to offer assistance not only during this time of extreme need, but to lay the foundations for more resilient communities in the future.
By Noel Boivin, Media Relations Officer, UNESCO Bangkok